Sport as Conflict

In speaking regularly about geopolitical conflicts that endanger many lives, and about tentative ways of diminishing (and hopefully erasing) them, the idea of being attuned to the other’s narrative plays a starring role.  In other words, we see all too often that, in conflict situations, each side (not presuming that there are only two sides) not only prefers their narrative, but that narrative highlights facts while diminishing others which makes it hard not to sympathize with them.

An example of this that is not brought into the discussion is sports.  Sporting events can be considered conflicts between two teams (or individuals), and almost all professional sports are the worst sorts of conflicts too, in that they are zero-sum games — one team wins, the other loses.  Sport as conflict manifests in the telling of narrative as well, as each team has fans and media who are unabashedly biased towards that team.  Given that the goal of sports is not to ‘resolve’ the conflict at all, as it should be with political and social conflicts, it is interesting to note that the language used in the latter is far too similar to that used in the former.  The example that jumps out at me is from the 2010 Olympics, when it was very easy to switch between watching an American broadcast of a sporting event and a Canadian one.  I would not hesitate to say that both constituencies (namely American and Canadian fans of the sport in question) would claim unequivocally that there broadcast is superior, and that their sport-watching experience would be seriously diminished if forced to watch the other broadcast.  Further, in prolonged rivalries, when the media has many days or even weeks to bring a story to a head (e.g. in the playoffs), it often happens that each side demonizes the other based on the same game, which is seen radically differently by the respective sides.

Using sport as an example, the question I am left with is: does the privileging of one narrative over another have to be a bad thing?  Or, is it a bad thing only when lives are harmed?


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