The Political Economy of Sports


Sports are human activities that involve physical exertion and skill as the primary focus of the activity. The rules and patterns of behaviour governing sport are formally established through organisations.

Sports and social identity

As in other areas of human activity, sports are rooted in complex networks that are marked by unequal power relations. Throughout history, European and North American hegemonic forces have dominated the world of sports.

The emergence and diffusion of modern sports has also been shaped by a globalizing political economy that seeks to promote competitiveness and success through the commercialization of athletic skills and equipment. This process of globalization has created a “drain” of talent, as young athletes from poorer countries are drawn to Western clubs and leagues.

Emotions and national identities

Sports offer an influential means of constructing and shaping social identity. They can evoke emotions that reflect both the self-evaluation of athletes and others’ expectations of them. These feelings, which range from “butterflies in the stomach” to ecstasy after a last-minute goal, are organized by sports subcultures into scripted emotional displays.

Athletes internalize these scripts, or “feeling rules,” as a means of managing their emotions in competition. They also follow cues from media pundits and other “stage setters” to display appropriate behaviors during pregame renditions of their country’s national anthem or postgame victory celebrations.

These rules, which also govern how fans express their emotions, help forge connections between sports and national identity. In Uruguay, for example, where football is closely woven with religion and community to reflect the national identity of its indigenous people, the team’s success in the international arena serves to reinforce socially accepted values.