The FIFA men's World Cup trophy, a gold ball being held by robed figures, sits on the grass with blurred stadium seats in the background
How might a “thinking fan” go about watching the upcoming FIFA men’s World Cup in Qatar? (photo via

The increasing public recognition of direct links between sports, social issues, and politics poses a challenging question: what should we watch? If we watched the 2022 Beijing Olympics despite concerns about IOC policy and China’s human rights record and repressive surveillance, does that make us bad people? If we watch the 2022 World Cup in Qatar despite concerns about FIFA motives along with the rights of migrant workers and LGBTQ people, does that make us complicit?

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WNBA player Nneka Ogwumike stands on a basketball count holding a basketball while wearing a purple Los Angeles Sparks shirt
With much of her team stranded overnight in an airport, Nneka Ogwumike of the Los Angeles Sparks issued a statement calling for a resolution to the WNBA’s ongoing travel issues. (photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images North America/Getty Images via CNN)

Nneka Ogwumike, President of the Women’s National Basketball Players Association, released a statement on August 8 asking for a resolution to the league’s ongoing travel issues. The seven-time league All-Star wrote the statement at 4 a.m. in an airport terminal.

Following a 79-76 win over the Washington Mystics the previous evening, Ogwumike and her teammates had arrived at the airport, learning at 1 a.m. that their flight back home had been rescheduled to 9 a.m. the next morning. Local hotels had limited capacity and could only accommodate about half of the team, leaving the other half stranded at the airport.

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Thousands of discarded bicycles sit in a massive pile
While cycling may be an environmentally-friendly mode of transportation, bikes are commodities made possible by the extractive industries, and they ultimately end up in the landfill like other trash. (photo by VGC)

You’re probably thinking, “Duh! Of course bikes are good for the environment, we all know this!” But let’s take a minute to make an important distinction between cycling and bikes. The activity of cycling as a mode of transportation has been proven time and again to be beneficial for the environment; however, bikes are commodities made possible by the extractive industries, and they end up in the landfill alongside our diapers, toasters, and other trash. While sport sociologists who conduct environmental research have done an excellent job of highlighting the environmental cost of hosting mega-events, creating golf courses, and operating ski resorts, very few academics have asked questions about the environmental impact of our sporting goods. In fact, in 2009, in an article published in the journal Sports Technology, Subic and colleagues wrote, “The disposal of composite products in an environmentally-friendly way is one of the most daunting challenges facing the sports goods industry.” Thirteen years later, we have barely begun to scratch the surface of this issue.

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A hockey player in a white jersey controls the puck near the goal with the goaltender close behind them.
While the number of men leaving college hockey to sign professional contracts increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been comparatively little discussion of women pursuing professional opportunities. (photo from Saint Mary’s University Huskies)

In 2022, Atlantic University Sport (AUS), a conference within Canadian university sport (U SPORTS), witnessed a significant number of its men’s hockey players sign professional contracts as a result of the uncertainty in their sport caused by COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. Deliberations about U SPORTS as a viable pathway to professional men’s hockey are not new; however, the number of athletes entering that pipeline increased significantly throughout the pandemic. In contrast, there was little to no public discussion of women having or pursuing the same opportunities. In this article, we discuss these issues by drawing on the first author’s research on AUS hockey athlete experiences of the pandemic and the second author’s personal experience as a former U SPORTS athlete who also competed internationally.

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Hockey player Nazem Kadri, wearing his Colorado Avelanche jersey, lifts the Stanley Cup above his head in celebration.
Nazem Kadri celebrates after his team, the Colorado Avalanche, defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning to win the 2021-22 NHL Stanley Cup. Earlier in the playoffs, Kadri, who is Muslim and of Lebanese descent, received a series of online racist attacks following a controversial on-ice play. Image courtesy of The Sporting News.

It can be argued that no sport is more identified with Canada than hockey, which makes it an interesting mirror through which to examine how race is defined and constructed. And yet, for a nation that prides itself as a “cultural mosaic,” there is little to suggest that hockey players reflect that self-image. Look no further than the overwhelmingly white National Hockey League. With the excitement of the Stanley Cup playoffs still fresh on our minds, it is worth reflecting on the question, “why are there so few racialized players in the NHL?”

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People wearing ranbow colored masks hold signs reading, "let kids play" and "the public says no to HB 1041"
People gather to protest Indiana HB 1041, a bill to ban transgender women and girls from participating in school sports (AP Photo/Michael Conroy).

For the first time since tennis player Renee Richards in the 1970s, transgender (trans) women athletes, including Lia Thomas and Laurel Hubbard, received major media coverage in 2021. However, these athletes weren’t spotlighted because of their athletic abilities per se, but because they became political targets caught in the crosshairs of arguments about fairness and competitive advantage in sport.

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A man on a skateboard performs a trick on a cement wall. A cellular phone on a tripod is pictured in the foregroud.
While professional skateboarders may seem to have a “cool” job, their employment is often precarious. Skaters rely heavily on social media to build a personal “brand” and secure the sponsorship of companies in the skateboard industry (skateboarder Andras Alexander pictured; photo by Dane Haman).

Tracing its origins back to 1960s California, skateboarding represents both a popular “lifestyle sport,” and an irreverent subculture that exists in a space between mainstream notoriety and obscurity. Highlighting its progression into the “mainstream,” the International Olympic Committee included skateboarding events for the first time in the delayed 2020 Summer Games. Today, people of all class backgrounds, age ranges, genders, and racial identities enjoy rolling around and performing tricks, such as kickflips, 5-0 grinds, and melon grabs, on nearly any architectural feature that is accessible, including sidewalks, streets, stairs, concrete ledges, rooftops, warehouses, and parking lots.

Further demonstrating the growth of skateboarding, a $2 billion industry supports the lifestyle sport, producing apparel, equipment, and media. Skateboard companies from Alien Workshop to Zero Skateboards sponsor talented riders at the professional and amateur level. Acting as ambassadors for their brands, these riders comprise a promotional “team.” They wear clothing emblazoned with logos, appear in advertisements, try to gain exposure, and compile clips for skate videos. In many cases, skateboard companies release videos of their riders performing impressive tricks as a form of advertising. Existing alongside these actors is an ecosystem of legacy and digital media that likewise promotes companies and their riders, such as the physical Thrasher Magazine, and the Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube accounts of The Berrics, which have millions of followers. Foregrounding the money and business behind skateboarding is important, because it allows us to see pro skaters as workers who perform athletic labor; as I explain below, part of their job is to promote and brand themselves on social-media platforms. Upon further investigation, we find that these alternative athletes face precarious employment, as well as an industry that discourages discussion about their working conditions.

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A person wearing blue jeans hits a hockey puck with a hockey stick while skating on a backyard ice rink.
Backyard ice rinks have been celebrated as a “Canadian way” to enjoy winter while many community rinks were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic (photo by Pete Thompson licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

“What do you do in the middle of a pandemic, when winter weather has arrived and almost every form of recreation is banned? Build an outdoor ice rink.” This was the question CBC Manitoba asked its readers—and answered for them—in December 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic’s second wave. A month later, firefighters in rural Ontario were filling backyard rinks for residents, and CTV highlighted pandemic induced backyard rinks from Ottawa to the Maritime provinces.

Outdoor ice rinks play a significant social and cultural role in the construction of a collective Canadian identity; from the romantic images of children scrimmaging on frozen ponds in commercials for Tim Hortons coffee shops, to the National Hockey League’s Winter Classic games, outdoor hockey is painted with nostalgia and innocence, as the game in its purest form. So, when backyard rinks had a renaissance during the COVID-19 pandemic, it was not surprising the Canadian media viewed such a development as worthy of celebration. Yet, as we face another winter marked by the pandemic, it is important to consider that, despite these media images, many Canadians have not been able to stick-handle “around the pandemic on [their] backyard rink.”

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In the stands of a soccer stadium, fans of the rival clubs Rangers and Celtic can be seen displaying their respective team colors, white and green for Celtic, red, white, and blue for Rangers.
The rivalry between Scottish soccer clubs Rangers and Celtic is infused with political meanings related to religion, ethnicity, and nationalism (photo via International Business Times).

Elite soccer in Scotland operates within a relatively small financial domain compared to wealthier soccer countries like Italy, England, Spain, and Germany. Nevertheless, soccer remains the country’s dominant team sport, with attendances in Scotland’s top league the highest in Europe when population size is considered. Soccer in Scotland is largely dominated by two famous institutions: Rangers, a club and fanbase with a definitive anti-Catholic history and tradition, and Celtic, a club founded by Irish Catholic immigrants. Approximately 70% of fans in Scottish soccer devote allegiance to either of these two clubs. The histories of Rangers and Celtic, and the rivalry between them, also means they have millions of supporters around the globe, especially, though not solely, where Irish Catholic and Scottish Protestant immigrants have settled during the latter 20th and early 21st centuries.

From a sociological standpoint, it’s important to understand how communal memory contributes to this great and storied rivalry. For many supporters of Rangers and Celtic, such memory is infused with politics, religion, history, ethno-religious discrimination, colonialism, and anti-colonialism.

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A collage of six group images featuring Black women in running gear before or after going for runs.
Black Girls RUN! has more than 70 local community chapters across the United States (photo via Black Girls RUN!)

The COVID-19 pandemic necessitated fundamental changes in people’s everyday lives. For example, social distancing measures drove changes to individuals’ fitness routines, leading to the popularization of home workout equipment such as the Peloton spin bike and treadmill. Part of Peloton’s growing ubiquity  is likely due to the social aspect of its platform and the sense of community many users feel through the use of hashtags and Facebook groups based on shared interests and identities. As a sociologist, I am interested in how fitness not only improves health, but also provides spaces for belonging. For example, a study published in 2016 about women who participate in Zumba reported that it had a range of benefits, including serving as a means of socialization and camaraderie. Social circles focused on physical activity can nurture fitness engagement and help people stay motivated to achieve their health goals.

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