Political influences and political formation of Physical
Education and Sport: society as sport or sport as society
Las influencias políticas y la formación política de la Educación Física y el Deporte:
la sociedad como deporte o el deporte como sociedad
Professor Adjunto na Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul (PUCRS),
Faculdade de Educação Física e Ciências do Desporto (FEFID);
Pesquisador Coordenador do Grupo de Pesquisa e Estudos Sociológicos
em Educação Física e Esporte (GPES), FEFID/PUCRS
Professor Adjunto na Instituição Educacional São Judas Tadeu, Curso de Educação Física
Prof. Dr. Marcelo Olivera Cavalli
The objectives of this research paper is to make clear the socio-political connections and relations existent between PE/Sport and society, as well as to make evident the social consequences derived from this interaction. The study evidences that there are two political aspects involved in the complex social, economic and political interaction that exists between PE/Sport and society: (1) the political influences of PE and Sport and (2) the political formation of PE and Sport. The analysis is conducted as if these two components were isolated from one another; in reality, of course, this is not the case. As they are always connected, interrelated, interdependent and inter-supported, they tend to reinforce one another. There is a cycle in which the discourses of the interaction between PE/Sport and society tend to affirm and support the prevailing structural system.
Keywords: Political influences. Physical Education. Sport. Society
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It is necessary to make a distinction between two political aspects of PE and Sport. What usually is done in sociologically oriented approaches and discussions is the analysis of the political roles performed by PE and Sport. There are, however, two political aspects involved in the complex social, economic and political interaction that exists between PE/Sport and society:
The political influences of PE and Sport over the various segments that constitute society itself and the social environment;
The political formation of PE and Sport caused by interferences of other social, political and economic structures.
The following analysis is conducted as if these components were isolated from one another; in reality, of course, this is not the case. As they are always connected, interrelated, interdependent and inter-supported, they tend to reinforce one another. There is a cycle in which the discourses of the interaction between PE/Sport and society tend to affirm and support the prevailing structural system.
Drawing on the ideas mentioned above, the objective of this research paper is as to make clear the socio-political connections and relations existent between PE/Sport and society, as well as to make evident the social consequences derived from this interaction.
Thus, the discussion of apparently non-connected social problematic such as the disruption of nature or racial and gender prejudice can reflect values and patterns that are strongly present in school PE and Sport environments. On the contrary, they are rarely discussed with significant emphasis regarding the fact that Sport and PE have a certain level of political influence over them. From another perspective, PE and Sport can be perceived as socially established components that are politically affirmed and developed to represent and diffuse "soft types" of political ideology.
As Gramsci denotes, "the supremacy of a social group manifest itself in two ways, as 'domination' and as 'intellectual and moral leadership'." It is appropriate to indicate a certain similarity between the two analytical conceptions of PE and Sport and the two ways in which supremacy is manifested. The political formation of PE/Sport presents characteristics of the 'domination' factor; and the political influences of PE/ Sport of the 'leadership' factor.
1. Society as Sport
As previously mentioned, many segments of each society have incrusted in its inner problematic structure some of the characteristics expressed through the practice of PE/Sport as well as through their theoretical discourses. Two given examples, nature disruption and racial and gender prejudice, are discussed below.
1.1. PE and Sport x nature
At a first sight there seems to be no relationship between PE/Sport and nature and no possible way to bring them together. However, that is the first problem present in the theory and practice of PE/Sport. Nature is not considered to be a part of it; neither is it a main determinant factor to perform physical activities. Nature has historically been considered as a thing, not as a source of qualities and possibilities of movement. Nature has not been used just like it is; instead, structures had to be built or adapted to match up with modern ‘hegemonic’ high performance Sport needs and modalities/events. Since PE has deeply embodied the same approach and discourse of the sportive order to nature, PE has the same technological approach to nature. This observation can be perceived in the words of Brohm and Laguillaumie (cited in Betti, 1991): "There is no direct relation to nature, the track substitutes the fields and forests; the swimming pool substitutes the river, etc. Nature is considered in its profitable aspects to the sport event; it is been considered just as a 'thing'."
A second problem is the technological approach to nature. Nature has been used as an endless source of resources, something that provides raw materials to construct courts, gymnasiums, apparatuses, and other facilities. Nature is something that exists for that specific purpose, as if it could be changed or destroyed to proportionate 'good' environmental conditions for the practice of Sport.
Using a few trees it is possible to create an innumerable variety of activities and games for one child, adult, or group to use. However the modernist technological approach would cut the trees down and construct such things as Swedish gymnastics benches, tennis tables or basketball boards. Why cannot we play without the interference of Sport? As we observe this technological approach to Sport and consider Betti's (1991) affirmation that Sport occupies "the top of the pyramid, where only a few individuals, endowed with exceptional psychomotor qualities, will be able to reach", we should also add the following: in present-day Sport only a few lucky children will have the satisfaction, pleasure and chance to have played on a tree – ‘there are no longer any more trees’ and ‘trees are not what people need’.
A third problem is the absence in PE and Sport of discourses of a theoretical emphasis to support a more ecological approach to their practices, to themselves and to nature. There is almost no ecological awareness and consciousness present in the discourse and practice of PE. All that is done is the self-affirmation of PE as a 'good' and 'essential' quality of our individual and social lives. When many acres of land are to be changed and adapted to develop a golf course, the beneficial aspects are always overemphasized: many people will have access to the facilities and will enjoy playing golf. But the detrimental aspects are left out and are not mentioned. We have to bear in mind that nature without any changes would indirectly bring innumerable benefits to a lot more people and animals than a golf course. The way that the modern world is 'open-mindedly' established and developed, it is inconceivable to think of any action without associating a political intention. For that reason alone, it is necessary to think about PE and Sport as a means to preserve nature and to avoid inconsequent disruption of nature.
1.2. PE and Sport x gender and race
Gender and racial prejudice can be used as another example to demonstrate some of the political influences of PE and Sport. As we are well aware of, most societies present certain favoritism to a specific gender model, to people's race or social background.
What is intended here is to instigate a debate on how that PE and Sport present an (in) appropriate environment for the development of discriminatory values and patterns in terms of gender and race. When women or afro-descendents complain that they are being discriminated against in terms of unequal job opportunities, promotions or pay, many people and organizations tend to support them as a matter of human rights. Others remain indifferent. Notwithstanding, a very few realize that this stratification occurs in PE and Sport. Moreover, PE and Sport do not necessarily favor men and Caucasians; instead, they maintain that there is always a superior (the winner) and an inferior (the loser). This ideology causes and reinforces in society a tendency to establish who the winners are and who the losers are. The political influences of PE and Sport in gender and racial relations assume a philosophic-sociological character, since the social relations and discourses are taken-for-granted, and tend to maintain the status quo.
2. Sport as Society
The political formation of PE and Sport is to be discussed within the framework of the term ‘Sport as Society’. PE and Sport are political creations of the institutionalized social environment. They were created as means to express and contain people's social expression, leisure, movement and culture. Their course of development were and continue to be influenced by external social structures that conceive and orient PE and Sport as a tool or as a mechanism of political influence. Their development and their maintenance are due to political interests associated to PE and Sport's powerful capacity to diffuse ideological concepts.
On the one hand, PE and Sport politically influence the establishment of social values and patterns and diffuse ideological concepts. On the other hand, the political formation of PE and Sport is also influenced by politics, society and economics. In this give-and-take game of influences, PE and Sport get stuck in between the two poles. Since they are socially and politically controlled, they do not have conditions to innovate and affirm themselves.
A few facts to exemplify the political formation of PE and Sport can be fruitful and give a proof of such arrangements. According to much research work regarding the history of PE and Sport, there are two main physical methods responsible for the establishment of present PE. First, gymnastics models were created in Europe to diffuse the theoretical thoughts and practical skills present at that time, which aimed the preparation of the youth for war. Second, Sport models were also developed in Europe, more specifically in England, where many economical, social and organizational changes were happening due to the industrial revolution that was taking place there (Betti, 1991).
Considering these two examples, it can be perceived that PE and Sport assimilated the concepts present in each context, incorporated them as their own, and started to diffuse them to the society. Was that caused by external influences? Let us suppose so. Thus, this external intervention happened because PE and Sport presented specific characteristics that could not be found in any other area or activity. Also, there was a need for the profession and its professionals to affirm themselves within society. Intervention starts very early, at school level and is widespread through various practices and levels of society. It is meant to exert a certain kind of control over the individual and the collective of society as well.
Politics, economics and government have always stressed the need and importance of physical activities. Programs were created, facilities were built, technology was developed, and many other mechanisms were articulated and put in effect to increase the participation of people in PE and Sport. In accordance with all this 'technological development' to favor our field of study, cooperative ideas, healthist and nationalistic slogans came to appear in many different contexts. Some of the contexts were without any visible relation to support and enforce mass participation.
Interestingly, there have been only a few serious scientific findings that would support theories favoring this kind of mass participation and the widespread of Sport. To the contrary, serious sociological research has always pointed out and presented critiques to Sport and mass participation, accentuated the manipulation occurred, and the appropriation and misrepresentation of PE and Sport.
PE and Sport were politically influenced due to the embodiment of concepts, values, patterns and interests of external structures, which came to be professed as their own. The political influences on PE and Sport can also be verified through the control, manipulation and appropriation of the discourses and of the contents present in the theory and practices of PE and Sport. This self-affirmative tendency of PE/Sport must be contested, since there is not much of the 'self' to be affirmed.
Contemporary society has historical connections to many difficulties that originated through time. These problems have relation to several problems concerning the maintenance of the planet. Therefore, disputes, controversies and confrontations have often occurred within the field of PE and Sport; PE and Sport were never a place for peaceful stability. Many people – citizens, teachers and researchers – criticize these facts. They question the relation between these facts and reform of society. Because of that, it is very important to develop critical research about the socio-political roles of PE and Sport.
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digital · Año 14 · N° 135 | Buenos Aires,
Agosto de 2009