Sport has important political power in contemporary culture. When North and South Korean athletes marched under a unified flag during the opening ceremonies of the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, it provided a powerful sign of cooperation between the two nations. Seeing the two Koreas marching together symbolized hope for reunification in the Korean peninsula. The 2018 Olympics, however, were only one chapter in a much longer story about the ways in which South Korea has invested substantial resources in attempts to foster a (global) Koreanness through success in sporting mega-events. In fact, cultural anthropologist Rachael Miyung Joo has argued that South Korea sees transnational sport as the most useful way to demonstrate the potential of a “global Korea.” Sport, in this respect, is used as a cultural apparatus to build a collective identity—what political scientist Benedict Anderson called an “imagined community.” Here, we aim to deconstruct South Korean sporting nationalism by analyzing how sport operates to establish and reinforce nationalism in South Korea.
As part of research I did several years ago on U.S. women’s professional soccer, I went to a lot of games. I still do. Since 2011, I’ve attended games in Chicago, Atlanta, Portland, New Orleans, and Birmingham.
In all of these locations, one thing has always stood out to me—how different the crowd is from that of many men’s sporting events. At professional women’s soccer games, girls fill the stands, accompanied by their parents. But not just any families are there—white girls and their parents predominate.
“I feel good that I am playing part in changing our culture and showing girls anyone can cycle. I don’t care what people say. I am the one benefitting from this bicycle. The most important thing that anyone can do is stand up for him or herself.” – Ayan from World Bicycle Relief (Eldoret, Kenya, Dec. 2017)
“You cannot lie when you’re on your bicycle, it will always tell you the truth” – Fagodien Campher, BEC Owner – Bicycle Empowerment Network (Lavender Hill, South Africa, date unknown)
“We believe in the bicycle as a means of increasing access to vital health services, economic opportunity, educational empowerment and independence.” – Bikes Without Borders (Toronto, ON)
“It is not a hyperbole to say that bicycles can change the world.” — Mike Brcic, Board Chair of BWB
The narratives above provide a small glimpse into the values and experiences people place onto bicycles across the globe. These narratives encapsulate the bicycle as a tool for development that has the ability to address a range of social issues, including poverty, lack of transportation, gender inequality, health and education. In addition, various social actors – such as the United Nations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and corporations – praise the bicycle as a tool for reducing poverty, and supporting youth development and education within marginalized communities around the globe. As a Master’s student and a member of Dr. Lyndsay Hayhurst’s research team at York University in Toronto, Canada, these kinds of narratives enable research teams like ours to highlight and identify what is called the Bicycle for Development (BFD) movement.
In November 2013, a capacity crowd of nearly 40,000 fans at the Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb, Croatia celebrated one of the great moments for any team competing in international soccer: by defeating Iceland 2-0, the Croatian national team was among the last of 32 countries to qualify for the 2014 Men’s World Cup finals in Brazil. Amidst the ecstasy, someone made the fateful mistake of handing a microphone to Josip Šimunić.
As the furor over NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem rekindles, the full power of the players themselves has not yet come into play. Presidential politics and U.S. culture wars combined to make the issue a dominant subplot of the 2017 NFL season. In late May, the league’s team owners reopened the debate by deciding to create a policy requiring players on the field during the playing of the national anthem to stand, under penalty of fines and on-field penalties, though players can also stay in the locker room.
Muslim sportswomen are too often read and represented as the oppressed “other” needing saving from their backward culture/society. However, my research on the digital lives of Muslim sportswomen reveals the multiple and nuanced ways they are taking matters of representation into their own hands, and in so doing, are challenging dominant portrayals of Muslim women in the mass media. Mainstream media coverage of Muslim women tends to focus on the hijabi athlete, while other Muslim sportswomen are often overlooked. The overrepresentation of the “oppressed” hijabi athlete obscures the multiple ways that Muslim women are participating in sport, as well as the cultural differences and diversity within this group. For example, the image below of a beach volleyball match between teams from Egypt and Germany, dubbed by some as the “clash of civilizations,” was circulated widely on social media. Many of the conversations and images centred around the hijabi athlete and rarely mentioned her Egyptian teammate who did not wear the hijab.
For most of January 2018, one of the worst sexual abuse scandals ever in sports dominated the news cycle, as former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to life in prison. During the trial, more than 100 sexual abuse victims testified about the predatory environment Nassar had created. Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman delivered an awe-inspiring 13-minute testimony that received national praise. Raisman, who identified herself as a powerful voice and advocate for all victims of sexual abuse, embodied the persona of feminist advocate and champion for abuse victims. However, Raisman’s credibility as a feminist advocate has come into scrutiny in light of her decision to pose – for the second time – for the 2018 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. This case raises several questions: Can Raisman still be considered a feminist advocate in light of her choice to pose for a sexist, white, heteronormative, and objectifying magazine feature? Where is the line between empowerment and objectification? As a rhetoric scholar, I am interested in how both Raisman’s traditional form of activism (public address) and her embodied rhetoric are compatible feminist discourses. My purpose is to explain Raisman’s multi-modal activism through the lens of feminist rhetorical criticism – highlighting the concept of “power feminism” – in order to complicate what feminist sports scholars and hosts of the Burn It All Down podcast call the “Sports Illustrated swimsuit conundrum.”
A substantial body of research has demonstrated that media coverage of the Olympics often perpetuates nationalistic and ethnocentric ideas. While the Olympics are popularly touted for “bringing people together,” Olympic media coverage may also reinforce and naturalize problematic ideas about gender, race, nation and culture. With these concerns in mind, one storyline to be mindful of is the qualification of a women’s bobsled team from Nigeria, the first from the African continent to appear in the Olympics.
While a record number of countries and athletes are expected to participate in the 2018 Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, the Winter edition of the Olympics remains an exclusive event. South Korea will be just the 12th country that has ever hosted the Winter Olympics, a quadrennial event that was inaugurated in France in 1924. Only a few countries have the geographic and economic conditions to host the event, which accounts for the fact that only 6 percent of the 206 recognized National Olympic Committees have ever done so. Further, a majority of countries still do not participate in the Winter Olympic Games. At the 2014 Sochi Games, 89 countries participated. This number increases to 92 in PyeongChang (plus the “Olympic Athlete from Russia” category), which still leaves 55 percent of countries out of the Games. According to the organizing committee website, 31 nations are participating with just one athlete (18 countries) or two athletes (13 countries). Seven of the eight participating African countries will send only one or two athletes to PyeongChang, while Nigeria has the largest African delegation with three athletes. For comparison, the United States of America is participating with 242 athletes.