The World Cup, patriotism and a history of sport

Tensions: Four historical events that brought out the darker side of international sport.

Is sport really a force for good? The 32 countries competing at the World Cup will be spurred on by nationalist sentiment. But many feel sport is the perfect place to express these feelings.

Who will you be supporting at the World Cup?

It is an easy question for many people. English people will support England. Peruvians will support Peru.

The US did not qualify, and so millions of Americans will switch their allegiance to the country of their ancestors.

In a globalised world of instant communication and mass capitalism, the World Cup seems old-fashioned. It splits the world neatly into those age-old divides of country and tribe.

It is often said that international sporting tournaments “bring the world together”. The founder of the modern Olympics hoped the Games would increase “friendly understanding among nations”.

And in many cases, this is true. The vast majority of cultural exchanges in Russia will be positive.

But some worry that the World Cup brings out the worst types of nationalism.

Comparisons have been made with the 1978 World Cup, which was held in Argentina and ended up being a major propaganda victory for Argentina’s military dictatorship.

In more modern times, the 1936 Olympics, hosted in Berlin in Nazi Germany, stand as the supreme example of a politicised sporting event.

Does sport help channel nationalism — or does it make it worse?

Tribal loyalties

It is a good thing, say some. National pride, in the vast majority of cases, is a healthy thing. It binds people together and promotes a sense of unity. And it is much better to let these feelings out in a fundamentally unimportant arena like sport than to express their nationalism in war.

George Orwell disagreed. “Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence,” he wrote. International sport is that it causes resentment — it is an “unfailing cause of ill will”.

You Decide

  1. Is sport a force for good?


  1. Write down your own definitions of the terms “patriotism”, “nationalism” and “national pride”. How do your answers compare with those of your classmates and what, if any, are the differences?

Some People Say...

“[Sport] is war minus the shooting.”

George Orwell

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The 32 countries represented at the World Cup will be cheered on by hundreds of millions of fans back home in unashamed displays of patriotism. Sport struggles to find a balance between the good and bad sides of patriotism.
What do we not know?
To what extent sport is the cause of nationalism and tribal feelings, or rather simply a consequence.

Word Watch

The US did not qualify
A crucial loss to Trinidad and Tobago meant that, for the first time since 1986, there will be no American representation at the World Cup.
Argentina’s military dictatorship
Two years before the World Cup, Argentina suffered a military coup. Thousands of people disappeared in the years after.
1936 Olympics
This came shortly after the 1934 World Cup, which was held in Italy under the fascist rule of Benito Mussolini. Both Hitler and Mussolini saw the events as good platforms from which to promote their message.

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