In many countries, sports have become a part of the national identity. Some people continue to participate in sports throughout their lives. Others stop participating at a later stage. The definition of what is a sport varies from culture to culture.
Historically, sports played a central role in constructing a national identity. They were a means of training young athletes in desirable traits. During the Industrial Revolution, these athletic pursuits were supported by scientific developments.
After World War II, sports became a global phenomenon. More powerful nations offered better facilities, training programs, and financial rewards for talented athletes. Poorer nations were unable to afford these resources. Consequently, some of the best athletes migrated to the more prosperous nations.
These countries established regular recurring sports festivals to reinforce their status. During the 1950s, the Soviet Union suppressed reformist efforts in Hungary and Czechoslovakia.
Aside from national identity, sports also help children develop social skills. Whether they play for a team or individually, children learn to cooperate, listen, and respect other people. They also learn to overcome disappointment.
Sports can be used as a means of undermining hegemonic social relations. During the twentieth century, nations were grouped into core and peripheral blocs. Among core blocs, North America and Europe dominate. On the other hand, noncore countries have used sports festivals to solidify their identities.
While sports were largely associated with physical exertion and contests, their emotional dimension still plays an important role. Feelings are reflected in the evaluation of others’ performances and in athletes’ own perceptions of themselves.