Sport both integrates and excludes

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

While sport is a powerful factor for social cohesion, it can also exclude through nationalism, elitism or racism, argues French sociologist William Gasparini in a spring 2008 article published by the Agence pour l’Education par le sport. 

Sport constitutes “a powerful cohesion factor, especially among young people, and notably among boys”, argues Gasparini. It can also act as “social elevator” as it enables individuals to be successful despite their different ethnic, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. 

But pointing to an “internal paradox” in sport, Gasparini also argues that it can exclude through the existing forms of chauvinism, elitism, nationalism and racism. These integration and exclusion factors constitute sport’s internal paradox. 

According to Gasparini, who also researches sport’s social sciences, sport does not have any virtuous basic educational or social values as such and conveys only those values that are attributed to it. Therefore, he argues, it is very difficult to assert that sport integrates naturally. 

Regarding sport’s role in citizenship, Gasparini argues that active citizenship cannot be learned through simple membership of a sports club and participation in its activites. According to him, true citizenship and democracy skills can only be learned through participation in decision-making and the creation of sports rules, which are not “natural” but a result of the social construction. 

However, to some extent, competitive sport may prepare for citizenship as it provides young people with a system of duties and responsibilities and teaches them to respect authority and submit to a certain number of constraints, such as training schedules or a team’s internal rules, Gasparini concludes.

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