Sport in contemporary British society

“Sport, in contemporary British society, is primarily a means of reinforcing national or local identity”. Discuss with relation to one or more specific examples of its contemporary presentation in one or more media forms. Sport can be seen as a means of fitness and endurance, where athletes strive to win and is also continually being regarded as a typical means of nation building. It produces records for the nation and makes it possible to find one’s place in the International World of competition. This is just one reason for people forming a national identity. It is characterized by competition and result, and what comes out of this is an identity of production.

By linking identification to results, the competitive encounter in sports stirs up feelings of connection and togetherness. Out-comes and records of sport are regarded as representative, and as collective results. It is also the media and their representation of sport that leads us to create our own national identities. After the England versus Germany match of September, 2001, the words “Five-one to us” could be heard nationwide, after they were mass printed in British tabloid papers. The result released strong emotions and a collective National identity.

Sport makes people wave the national flag and sing the national anthem in the case of victory. Sport produces successful athletes who are then proclaimed as national heroes, that people can identify and worship. It means organizing national committees and building national stadiums. It involves people from all aspects of life and crosses all cultural borders. Sport events allow national unity to be displayed and encompass millions of followers who all assume one identity. It gives body and face to national identity and allows people to be themselves.

National identity in Britain has all but disappeared whereas English identity has increasingly become a brand that sport events allow us to display. This brand of ‘English National identity’ was most recently exercised in the World Cup 2002, where nations across the World joined forces to support their football teams. It did indeed seem like the millions of people that form a country, became completely represented by just those 11 men.

National identity within England should have always been hugely powerful due to our historical roots. As a country, we have had enormous Imperial and industrial power Worldwide and could even be said to be the Mother of the World. However, this contribution to National identity has slowly been eroded away and Sport and media representations have become the new factor in bringing our identities together.

Our Institutional heritage, represented by the Monarchy is slowly falling apart at the seams and is no longer the strong leadership like that of the 1800s and Queen Victoria. Cases like the recent story of Paul Burrell simply help to reaffirm that our heritage in Britain is collapsing. Devolution and confusion of where power lies in Parliament fuels the idea Britain no longer has a National identity. With the assistance of media representation, national identities are reconstructed. “Media coverage of sport arguably plays a significant part in the construction of national identities” (Horne, Tomlinson & Whannel: 177).

As an Empire, we have lost all significant commodities and only have the Commonwealth games to show for our Imperial achievements. This is a perfect example of where sport and it’s representation in our media, reaffirms our National identity but we are no longer a British nation, but an English one. We are no longer the World power we once were. There is no longer a demand for our industries as it is continually Japanese brands that are consumed but the media help to keep spirit alive and national identities constant, by comparing our support to that of “humourless East Europeans” (Horne, Tomlinson & Whannel: 177). The English media portray other nations national identities in humorous ways that show the honour of being English. “National identities are constructed upon difference” (Horne, Tomlinson & Whannel: 178). They try and catch the public’s mood and encourage competitiveness and “imagined communities” (Anderson: 1983).

Our language and our Anglo-Saxon roots have also slowly been eroded. Although on the surface our British language may appear to be strong, it is no longer identified with us any more. The language that was once known as English is universally spoken across the seas. We are now more likely to hear our ‘English Language’ being spoken on Neighbours with an Australian twang or by a foreign footballer playing in our premiership teams. Our traditional Anglo-Saxon society of white Protestants, has continually changed over the years and today there are more practising Muslims than Christians in Britain. It is yet another aspect that would support a National identity that has disintegrated.

The delegation of specific powers by a higher level of government to a lower one, that occurred in 1997, also weakened Britain as a nation. No longer are Scotland and Wales part of our Nation, we are all separate countries sharing the same Island. We no longer share the same National identity or as the World Cup 2002 showed even the same flag. However, although British National Identity has been eroded, this has meant that Englishness has been allowed to develop. All of these aspects have slowly disintegrated and it is now Sport that can bring the majority our nation together to form an identity, that of Englishness. All of these above aspects have eroded national identity in England on one front but have allowed for the Media to portray a new ‘togetherness’. They portray the feelings that “we’ are all in this together” (Horne, Tomlinson & Whannel: 180). A perfect example of this is that of the Daily Mail in 1996.

“This morning the Daily Mirror is handing out 200,000 free whistles nationwide. And as the England- Spain Euro ’96 show-down kicks off this afternoon we want one minute’s noise for our boys” (Horne, Tomlinson and Whannel: 180). The 1990s started an age of sport within the United Kingdom. It became a force that shaped all aspects of our lives from fashion to health. Nowadays, the majority of our public, wear trainers and jogging trousers as part of their every day clothing. Media companies like that of BskyB would not exist if it was not for its premiership contract and the commitment that we now have with sports events.

Radio 5 brings together local communities following the same teams and has the highest listening figures even though it is a sport only channel. Everyday newspapers all have sport supplements as an essential part of their editions. All of these mediums create strong relationships between people and the establishment of identities. Without television, the World Cup would not have created the huge effect that it did on homes and families. There would not have been the same national identity created if it had just been the people that travelled to Korea who were able to view the games.

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