Sport, nationalism, and the imagined community of millions

24 June 2010

A nice quote about how foot­ball and na­tion­al­ism come to­gether neatly, from Nations and na­tion­al­ism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality by Eric J. Hobsbawm, p. 143 (emphasis added):

Between the wars, however, in­ter­na­tional sport became, as George Orwell soon recognized, an ex­pres­sion of na­tional struggle, and sports­men rep­re­sent­ing their nation or state, primary ex­pres­sions of their imag­ined communities. This was the period when the Tour de France came to be dom­i­nated by na­tional teams, when the Mitropa Cup set leading teams of the stares of Central Europe against cach other, when the World Cup was in­tro­duced into world football, and, as 1936 demonstrated, when the Olympic Games un­mis­tak­ably became oc­ca­sions for com­pet­i­tive na­tional self-assertion. What has made sport so uniquely ef­fec­tive a medium for in­cul­cat­ing na­tional feelings, at all events for males, is the ease with which even the least po­lit­i­cal or public in­di­vid­u­als can iden­tify with the nation as sym­bol­ized by young persons ex­celling at what prac­ti­cally every man wants, or at one time in life has wanted, to be good at. The imag­ined com­mu­nity of mil­lions seems more real as a team of eleven named people. The individual, even the one who only cheers, becomes a symbol of his nation himself.