The Globalization of Sport

On the evidence of the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea and the 2000 Sydney Olympics, it is easy to think there is a homogeneous world-wide sporting culture. Coca –Cola, MasterCard and other multinational companies invest vast sums to capture a global audience through sport. All nations, it seems, are desperate to compete at the highest level on the world stage. But is it that simple? Have we really arrived at a time in history where we can talk about a commonly understood series of global games?

France has a special – and neglected – place in this story. For it was the French, rather than the British, who took the lead in organizing sport as a global phenomenon. The centenary of a Frenchman’s reinvention of the ancient Olympic Games took place in 1996, and 2004 witnesses the centenary of the founding in France of the International Football Federation (FIFA), which devised and runs the World Cup. Historically, France is both the supreme exemplar of sporting internationalism and a powerful reminder of its peculiarities, limitations and complexities. 

It is hardly surprising that the French role in the story of world sport has been neglected. For it was in Britain that modern sport began. These developments were initiated by the boys and masters of elite public schools, but were rapidly diffused through society so that games such as football became the passion of the people. Agencies such as the church, the press and the voluntary associations set up by middle-class moral reformers all urged the cause of sport as a supreme source of male virtue promoting fair competition, controlling violent instincts, outlawing gambling and discouraging drunkenness. This idea of moral and social education through “sportsmanship” came to be closely associated with the ideal of the amateur and the English gentleman.

It was Britain that began the process of spreading ideals and practices. However, the British had a robustly ethnocentric view of their sports. Sport was their property and they were really only interested in playing among themselves, preferably with the white Dominions. They had no driving ambition to teach the world to play. Modern sport spread mainly to Europe via European anglophiles. The French were foremost among sporting enthusiasts.

Mike Cronin and Richard Holt, History Today, 2003


1. Large multinational companies tend to
A. ignore global sporting events.
B. invest a lot of money in global sporting events.
C. put a lot of money into global cultural initiatives.
D. None of the above.

2. Initiatives for the organisation of sport as a global phenomenon initially came from
A. Greece
B. Rome
C. France
D. Britain

3. In Britain, modern sporting events were first organized by
A. teachers and students at prestigious public schools.
B. voluntary associations of religious people.
C. middle-class moral reformers.
D. gamblers and alcoholics.

4. The British
A. tended to spread their new sporting ideals among Continential Europeans.
B. weren’t motivated by a desire to make sport global.
C. encouraged the French to spread sport across the world.
D. all of the above.

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