The 2014 FIFA World Cup demonstrated some of the highest amount of patriotism seen in the United States in the last few years. People who had never been to a soccer game played by players over nine were suddenly donning Clint Dempsey jerseys, and others were simply just pretending to know what the words “offsides” and “pitch” meant outside of respective football and baseball contexts. Was it a bit of bandwagoning? Of course. Was it justified? Absolutely.
International sports have multiple purposes such as crowning a country as the best at something or bringing the global community together even as war rages in multiple places. However, there is also a domestic side to international sporting that besides strengthening international relations, also strengthens nationalism and patriotism within the countries. Every two years the Olympic Games show us that, especially as citizens of the historically victorious United States. The relationship
sports and nationalism is nothing new, and as the 1868 book British Sports and Pastimes points out, the British hope “that English sports may remain as long as England remains”. Sports were engrained in national culture in 1868, and are astronomically more so now. As part of the Sport and University theme semester here at Michigan, I attended two film screenings of movies depicting athletes competing internationally, but from drastically different backgrounds.
The first film was the 2004 American film Miracle covering the US Men’s Ice Hockey team’s turbulent path to a gold medal at the 1980 Olympic Games. The film is fittingly patriotic and makes an American such as myself overwhelmingly proud to watch. The American team overcomes adversity, and with the strength of their country behind them, defeats the formidable Soviet team (who had beaten the US 10-3 before the Olympics) in the semifinals and goes on to win the gold. The video below shows the last minute of the actually 1980 semifinal (not from Miracle).
The other film I went to see was The Boxing Girls of Kabul, a documentary following three girls on the newly established Afghan National Women’s Boxing Team. Not only were the three teenage girls new to boxing, but the whole concept of sports (particularly with female competitors) was new to Afghanistan as a result of the fall of Taliban control. The team was underfunded, had only one coach, and the girls had never set foot in a real boxing ring until their first international competition in Vietnam, but Caster Semenya and countless others have shown that being an athlete from an economically disadvantaged country can still lead to widespread success. However, the boxers in the film had other challenges. Aside from the now-gone Taliban, many other religious people in the country took offense to females competing in sports, and as a whole the country was not behind the women’s team. The trailer for The Boxing Girls of Kabul can be seen below.
The American victory in Miracle was impressive, but aside from the Cold War setting and a formidable Soviet opponent, the team faced no true adversity. Although not as strong as the Soviet Union, the United States still had a huge selection of talented hockey players to field a team with, and the strength of the American public was behind the team the whole way. However, the Afghan girls didn’t have this luxury, and even beyond being apathetic, much of the public didn’t want them competing at all. The girls’ right to box could be backed up by Mill’s writing in On Liberty as Mill says that “the only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way“, but the issue is wider than that. Under Mill, the girls would have the full right to box amongst themselves as would affect no one else, but when they are representing the country as a whole, the issue goes into a gray area. These are not celebrity boxers already at the top of the sport, but rather aspiring boxers training solely to represent their country, and unfortunately, their country doesn’t seem to want them.
In the US, we sometimes take our patriotism for granted, and our consistent victories in international sports add to this. However, this is a situation that very countries have, and the US is lucky to maintain. While underdog victories such as the 1980 Olympic ice hockey championship are great, sometimes just the right at all to do something such as play a sport is even more valuable.
Jonathan Hyman – Section 8
Blog 6 – Event Blogger