One of the most recognized and widely debated terms in recent times is “globalization.” While there is little consensus as to what it actually is, there is little doubt that the world has in one way or another become more inter-connected. Mass communications and transportation technology, in addition to the rise of transnational corporate culture, have combined to produce a new global culture.
At the same time, sport has become one of the most recognized elements of global culture. In fact, it has been claimed that there are no other events in the world that attract the attention of more people around the world than sports events, especially the Olympic Games and the World Cup football (soccer) tournament. It is difficult to think of other events that attract the world’s attention in the same manner as sport.
Global themes infuse international sporting events in several ways. One of those ways is in advertising. Major transnational corporations using major events like the Olympic Games advertise with global themes and images. In addition, media coverage of major events often emphasizes national and international themes. These themes can be both positive and negative. For example, sport can reinforce international cooperation and cultural learning, but it can also be used to reinforce themes of aggressive nationalism and create tension between countries. This was clearly the case during the Cold War from World War II to the late-1980s, in which West Bloc and East Bloc nations regularly did battle at the Olympic Games.
More recently, additional global themes have appeared. The international immigration and movement of athletes is one theme. Increasingly, professional and elite amateur athletes are attracted to other. Football (soccer) is one sport that practices “athlete immigration” frequently. Many professional teams in Europe, for example, have many players from outside the team’s nation.
An additional global theme that has appeared lately is sport used for international advertising and marketing. Sport provides a very useful device for transnational marketing and advertising because the symbols provided by sport are often recognizable internationally, and sport provides many of the themes and images important to advertising: speed, strength, competition, perseverance, and so forth. Major corporations such as IBM and Coca-Cola regularly use sport to advertise their products, even though these corporations don’t sell sport-related products directly.
Some critics have claimed that major international events such as the Olympic Games are being used less for international understanding and culture sharing as they are for making big corporations a lot of money. While it is clear that the sport-related images and symbols used by these corporations are recognized worldwide, it is not so clear what positive benefits are accrued from this. In any case, there is little doubt that sport will continue to play a vital role in the globalization process.