Considerations on contemporary Physical

 Education and Sport. Should PE and Sport change?


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 paper gives thought on considerations about contemporary PE and Sport. The objective of the study is to debate over the possibility of empowering people – using PE and Sport to provide people with awareness and conditions to make social transformations effective. Suggestions are offered at improving and changing PE and Sport in order to promote less emphasis on competition in people’s daily lives and more emphasis on cooperation – the adoption of cooperative games and activities are within the scope of such suggestions. The paper finishes indicating that the importance of the field of PE and its professionals to act inside as well as outside of their professional environments has to be emphasized and effectively performed.

          Keywords: Physical Education and Sport. Change

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    It is a fact that PE was influenced and used by external factors that were not related to education. It is also a fact that PE has conscious or unconsciously collaborated to support or preserve the dominant ideology and of the presiding governing system. This is easy to prove. We just have to take a critical look at the history of PE and compare it to the social-political situation in a certain period.

    In accordance to the historical context, PE methodological models and actions have developed severe and disciplinary values. These have contributed to the stagnation and disintegration of knowledge and to disagreement with social and political reality. These elements of conservation will be weaker as the presence of analysis and critical thinking become stronger.

    The history is defined by its subordination to misrepresented objectives, body instruction, socially alienating practices, athlete worship, lack of individuality, and maintenance of social inequity.

    In the past, PE classes have consisted of sportive activities. Precocious sport initiation, performance and immediacy do not consider the individual, and the individual is the only one who knows his or her own possibilities and limits. The movements are stereotyped and create conformity because they do not exercise and do not give space for creation.

    It is necessary to reflect and question the presence and place of PE in school and in the social-political-economic-cultural context. We must rethink practical methodologies and develop a conscious and critical vision of the non-neutrality of the actions. We must also make agreements to collaborate in the education of the people that will act in the process of changing the society.

Meaning of the research

    The critical research of the socio-political roles of PE and Sport is conducted through the following meanings:

  1. Until now, PE and Sport have often been criticized as conservative organizations. This same characteristic is present in all countries throughout the world. However, the contents and causes have not sufficiently been examined. So far, there has been a great deal of research that investigated comparative general remarks. Analytical research was not significantly developed. Consequently, it was difficult to make connections between concrete practices. In regard to this fact, this research paper emphasizes the importance of developing such a line of research.

  2. 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.

What can be changed? How to change?

    Questions like these are and should be present in everyone's theoretical and practical activities, since PE is going through a period of identity crisis. After this long process of questioning and reflection, still no one seems to know how to cause any effective change in the hegemonic ideology that guides PE. It is necessary to elaborate a PE compromised with the social and cultural characteristics of the society as well as with the characteristics of the socio-historical context in which PE and society exist and interact. In this context, problems that demand specific and deep analysis will be generated. But PE must be understood as a suggestion to approach 'movement' and 'body culture' as a means of expression, awareness, freedom, social fairness, social equity, nature prevention, political and social consciousness. PE should present a pedagogic subject to diffuse the theme and ways to express this 'body culture'. Its subject of study should be the meaning and significance of body expression wherein humanity's and society's intentions and objectives are dialectically intertwined. Also, PE should make possible the recognition and establishment of the 'social body', that is , a body that is aware and conscious of its presence and importance in any situation. Its movement or non-movement always represents a certain political intention or political positioning.

    The term 'movement' contains other meanings besides PE or physical movement. It contains possibilities such as social movement and political movement. These are not emphasized and assume characteristics that stagnate and reduce their powerful capacity of producing contradiction and critique. Therefore, along the history of education, we can verify that the existence of PE has been justified by needs such as performance, physical training, the search and formation of athletes. Such needs characterize a tendency to instrument, separate and specialize the body. What reinforces this tendency is the unhistorical approach to physical exercise, which is an end in itself and ruled by the laws of physics. It also has been justified for supposedly being capable of attending to needs related to the development of ideal virtues and qualities that are socially relevant to the 'System'. Such positions do not consider body expression through its anthropological approach; that is, through man's own nature and the historic-cultural factors expressed in cultural movements. It is necessary to consider that body expression reflects the 'indoctrination' imposed, by the relations of power with the dominant ideology to society's daily life, work and leisure. It is also necessary to comprehend the true significance of PE practices. That implies a reflection over the relations of interdependence between PE and contemporary and important socio-political problems like ecology, gender differences, public health and education, social relations of work, racial prejudice, garbage and recycling, technology and science.

A Model for Social Changes

    Betti's (1991) main aim in establishing the Sociological Model – represented only by the black lines in Fig. 1; red lines should be disregarded – was to conceive and to explain the pedagogical options taken in the instruction of PE. As he pointed out, the model is not reality itself, but a means to explain reality.

    Through the analysis of the sociological model, it is possible to verify strict hierarchical connections between its different levels. Since there is hierarchy involved, it is probable that difficulties are to be faced regarding the feedback to proposals offered by the superior levels. However, it would also be possible for social changes to occur at the lowest hierarchical level. Here, teachers and students, outside their school environment, would create different social discourses that could trigger a change on society and educational politics. This process could be understood as 'changes from outside of the school environment'.

    Considering the similarities between society and educational politics, and that both are regulated by external political powers, the changes described above are possible, although not very effectively. If trying to contribute to the formation of a new social order, then the Sociological-Educational Model (see Fig. 1, below) is an interesting model to consider. This model should also be considered as a means of expressing various ideas and intentions. Through its analysis, we can critique the political role played or not played by PE and Sport, and see the imposition of social ideology and values into the discourses of PE and Sport.

    According to the sociological-educational model, influences such as manipulation, imposition, regulation and ideological use inflicted by political powers over society should be emphasized. The model would also follow the same direction designated by Betti's (1991) sociological model. However, it would not only break hierarchical differences, but also activate changes that originated 'inside of the school environment'. Such changes derived from the lower hierarchical levels of Betti's model, that is, the teacher-student-subject trinomial and the educational objectives of PE.

    The sociological-educational model proposes to flow not only on a single hierarchical direction, but would pursue both directions, by including the anti-hierarchical as well.

    The anti-hierarchical direction is not stressed in Betti's model although it plays effective and discriminative conservative roles. Thus, the main difference between the two models is that the anti-hierarchical direction should be one of the main sources for socio-political transformation. It could be done by setting new definitions for PE to affirm itself, which means to create conditions to a sociological-philosophically oriented debate, in which the central theme would be the objectives, beliefs and values of PE.

Fig. 1. Sociological-Educational Model

Sport and Alternative Physical Practices

    It is necessary for PE to initiate alternative approaches to physical culture and to society. Alternative approaches to physical culture have been attempted world-wide. Examples are the "New Games" in the U.S., the "Cooperative Games" in Canada and "Trops" – Sport read backwards – in Japan. However, neither one of these caused institutionalized changes nor were they able to establish different approaches to Sport at social levels. The absence of connections to social and cultural facts may have been responsible for the unsuccessful attempt of the first two. Trops is said by its organizers to present strong relationship to major cultural, social, political and ecological problems. Trops also has remote chances to survive and have its philosophy diffused among society. Why is that? Why cannot we break with the hegemony of the sportive culture? The fact is that there are many possible approaches to Sport. Amusement, health promotion, fitness, leisure, fun, social interaction, "de-stressing", hobby or professional reasons are the most professed ones. To break from this powerful ideology is not easy. Objectivity, will power and strong social conscience are necessary to put forth alternative approaches that are not Sport-oriented. One of the challenges to be faced by PE is how to maintain and diffuse the philosophy and social objectives of alternative physical cultures.

    The following three examples of alternative areas can be used by PE to approach society:

  1. Sport is an internationally spread "language". However, there are many people who do not play, participate, watch or have interest in Sport. Why does Sport have such international and deep influences in every nation and in all political systems?

  2. In rural areas, students face many troubles to continuing their education. Some drop out and only a few reach the university. After they reach the university they will never return to work in their home towns or other rural areas. This phenomenon is creating big problems and differences in both rural areas and big cities. Why have not Sociology of PE/Sports and Pedagogy paid enough attention to these facts?

  3. The Sport structure is well defined in present-day society. Sport has its objectives, use, social acceptation, and offer fun, amusement, leisure and professional possibilities. On the other hand, society is not a clear structure yet. The interaction between the social structure and PE and Sport is not well defined either. It is necessary to clarify the social structure and the social objectives of PE and Sport within society. The aim is to socialize instead of only promoting momentary situations of social interaction. An example is the introduction of PE and Sport in socially marginalized contexts such as asylums, mentally and physically disabled people's institutions or children's reformatories. PE and Sport are not used to socialize these people. The people only leave their 'homes' for a short period of time in which they are exposed to social interaction. After the PE or Sport event is finished, they return 'home' and stay apart from society. Thus, we can say that PE and Sport are used as a leisure activity that offer a few hours of cooperation, competition, friendship and fun. PE and Sport neither socialize nor reintegrate people into their social life. Why are not we aware of that? If PE is aware, why does it keep this practice?

The development of a Critical Pedagogy of PE

    A possibility to stimulate or cause effective social change is the development of a critical pedagogy of PE. PE teachers, researchers and society as a whole should make effort to define what societal model is to be implanted, what objectives are to be achieved and how these objectives are to be achieved.

    Present-day PE is going through a period of identity crisis. This period does not have a bad connotation at all. It is implicit that those involved in the field are striving to reach a consensus. There are many reasons why a critical pedagogy of PE is necessary. Three reasons are indicated as follows:

  1. To promote critical considerations on the socio-political functions of PE.

  2. To establish critical considerations on the institutionalization of PE.

  3. To promote critical considerations on PE discourses, practices and social structures related to PE and Sport.

    An important factor that has to be determined is what functions are to be performed by individuals, professionals and institutions. Until now, what has been done in the field of PE is the development of disintegrated activities and tasks. Theoretical and practical contents do not reflect one another. Also, researchers act inside of the scientific fields, teachers inside the school environments and citizens within society. What has to be emphasized is that we all have to interact and integrate our knowledge, experiences and possibilities. Teachers and researchers have to be conscious that we are members of society too. We have to develop our professional activities within society. Participation and engagement in civil and political movements may represent a possibility for us to be citizens and qualified professionals at the same time. Citizens should take part in civil and political movements whether they are organized or not by researchers and teachers. Their activity should not be seen as variables of a research project, but as active participation in a socio-political event. As for the theory and practice of PE, they have to be 'connected' and represent one another. Misrepresentation and uncritical approaches to objectives, socio-political functions and social values leads to the contradictions that are present within the field. Kageyama et al. (1993) states that there are three main areas that has to be considered in the construction of a new PE. They are as follows:

  1. The socio-political functions of PE – the research of the "shadow curriculum" of PE.

  2. The influences of PE which are inflicted on children – the research of the "hidden curriculum" of PE.

  3. The socio-political formation of the PE institution – the research of the PE institution as "hidden coercion".

Concluding phrase

    In order to contest, change or improve PE, Sport and society it is necessary to inquire, examine and approach PE and Sport as areas in which values, practices, ideologies, beliefs and meanings are contested.


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