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Sociocultural influences on sports

Sunday, March 11, 2018
The Pro Look

There is a growing recognition of the need to understand the impacts of culture and ethnicity in sport globally and in relation to us here, throughout T&T and the Caribbean region.

Sports play an important role in many cultures across the globe. The sports that are valued by specific cultures depend on many variables, according to Society and culture are powerful influences on how valuable sports are perceived to be, what sports are the most important within a community and what teams the general population cheers for.
Society also influences the changes in popularity across different sports and players. The examples are clear here in T&T. But it would have been more widespread in years gone by up until the 1980s some may say.

Cricket and football have been the top two without a doubt. You had teams with huge followings from their village or hometown. You knew for sure what crowds to expect depending on the home venue and if it was neutral, say for instance in the Queen’s Park Savannah, then it was a given that the supporters of the two football clubs would sell out the venue. Athletics had the Caribbean and Southern Games which sadly is struggling to survive now.

The question has to be asked, how did we lose this and how can we get it back? Is the West Indies producing the quality and quantity of top players that we once did. Is T&T producing the level of footballers or netball players we once did? India and Australia are incredible at cricket just to name a couple examples. Football has too many to list. South Korea dominates archery. And no country produces the quantity or quality of polo players the same way Argentina does. But what makes one country great at one particular sport? Is it possible to pin down why a country embraces a sport in the first place and why they dominate it thereafter?

Daniel Coyle has written extensively about this in his book “The Talent Code”. Coyle believes geographical areas—whether it be a city, a country or larger—simply require ignition, followed by expert coaching, to excel at a particular sport. The ignition comes from history and culture which plays a big part.

Coyle, argues it is as basic as working hard, and there is no such thing as ‘natural talent.’ He says, ‘The idea of babies being born with certain gifts, working hard and having the passion to become great is a fantastic story. It’s the story of Michelangelo and of Michael Jordan. It’s a beautiful story. The problem with that story is that it’s vague. Going through life thinking you can create performance by combining natural gifts, passion and hard work is exactly like going through life thinking you can create a Ferrari with steel, red paint and Italians.’

Essentially, every great skill already exists in everyone’s brain, but it just needs working on. Coyle’s argument would suggest South Koreans have no greater sensitivity than anyone else, or Brazilians are no stronger than any other nation in football. They were simply born into a culture that held a certain sport in a higher regard than elsewhere, and then worked specifically to improve the skills needed to perform well at it.

Sport and its organisations in top sporting countries are reflections of national and cultural variety. Look at Jamaica with athletics. This variety in forms of sport can only be explained, if we know the historical roots of sport, the social and cultural structure and political influences and interests of each country.

Historical achievements using pictures can you a first impression of the variety and heterogeneity of sport. But, of course, this image of sport created by me depends on the pictures chosen and shown to you. This is where everyone can be involved from media to the coaching personnel, to those in the schools.

How we project things can play a big part in what we get out of it. There is a dire need for us to revisit how we go about setting standards and goals and we must honestly decide what we want out of sport on a global and even national scale. Do we just want to be participants or do we want to be champions? Do we want to ignite that passion that once existed so strongly in the past?

In cultures that value sports and competition, sports players are often hailed as being some of the best of what each society has to offer. Sporting athletes are often revered, in certain societies, as having hero status. More heroes means more for the nation to celebrate and then just perhaps we may have something other than Carnival to help take the stress away.

Shaun Fuentes was a FIFA media officer at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and is a CONCACAF tournament’s press officer. He has worked in countries such as Nigeria, Morocco, Turkey, Brazil, Egypt,Panama, Bahamas, USA and the UK among 60-plus other countries as a media operations manager.


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