By Javad Heirannia

Sports competition an opportunity to satisfy ‘national pride’: anthropologist  

August 7, 2016 - 15:1

TEHRAN – An anthropologist believes that many people consider sports competitions as good opportunities for countries to show their “national pride” and “confront each other”.

“Sports competitions are far better than war, and can be just as satisfying for national pride,” Prof. William O. Beeman, head of the anthropology department at the State University of Minnesota, tells the Tehran Times as the Rio de Janeiro Olympics began on Friday.
Following is the text of the interview:

Q: Is there any relationship between politics and sports?

A: This varies from country to country. Some countries actually have a sports ministry, so the minister of sports is a government official. In Communist countries sports are an extremely important political factor in government. A great deal of government money is spent on training athletes, since the state views athletic victory as proof of national superiority. Under the old Communist German Democratic Republic, the East Germans used athletics as a way of proving that they were better than the West Germans. In the United States sports are very important for national and local pride, but no government money is spent on athletic training, or in sending athletes to the Olympics. All money spent is raised from private donations. 
It is possible for sports participation to have a political meaning. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and had the Olympic Games in Moscow, the United States boycotted the games to protest the Soviet action, and to deny the Soviets a possible propaganda victory. In Atlanta, African American athletes who won their contests exhibited a "black power" salute to protest unfair treatment of African Americans. They were stripped of their medals for having politicized their position. 
One other area where sports and politics are intertwined has to do with building sports stadiums. In the United States no national money is spent on sports stadiums. However, local money from cities or even states may be used to support stadiums. This is a big controversy in some parts of the United States, since these are tax monies, and local taxpayers are sometimes very upset at the amount of money being spent, and at the fact that these stadiums benefit team owners who make millions and millions of dollars from sports events. 
In Europe and Australia stadiums are usually supported through a combination of public and private funding. 
Because the Olympics are seen as being of great economic benefits to the cities that host them, there have been scandals involving bribery of the Olympic Committee members, but this is a matter of local politics and common corruption at the local level. 

Q: Some claimed that political motives were behind efforts to remove Russia from Olympic Games. What is your view?

A: If there was any pressure on the Olympic committee to remove Russia from the games, it was on an informal basis, and not a matter of official government policy on the part of any government. Actually, we have no evidence at all that the Committee was pressured by anyone. The Russians were clearly in violation of Olympic rules for using illegal performance-enhancing drugs. The elimination of Lance Armstrong, American bicyclist, from his Tour de France victories because of illegal performance enhancing drugs was widely supported in the United States. Many American baseball and football players have been fined or removed from their teams for steroid use. So, I really don't think there was any specific political motive. The Russians should not have used performance enhancing drugs. It is cheating, and everyone knows that cheating should not be allowed in the Olympics. There is one distinction one could make. In the past there was not the kind of extensive testing we find today, and the testing was not done very seriously. Today there are both more drugs available and better testing methods, so both drug use and rigorous testing have increased. 

“Many people (many anthropologists!) point out that sports competitions are healthy ways for countries to confront each other.”Q: Have sports games changed into a tool for countries to confront each other?

A: Sports competition was always a matter of both national and local pride. Soccer teams like Manchester United have rabid fans, and countries always look at sports victories as a sign of superiority. Famous contests between national sports teams in the World Cup for soccer get all tied up with national prejudices. For example, Brazil and Argentina have a tremendous rivalry. When Brazil lost in the World Cup, the Brazilians actually rooted for Germany in their contest with Argentina because the Brazilians wanted to see the Argentinians lose. 

Many people (many anthropologists!) point out that sports competitions are healthy ways for countries to confront each other. Sports competitions are far better than war, and can be just as satisfying for national pride.

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