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Sports and Multiculturalism from a European Perspective

Sports and Multiculturalism from a European Perspective

In this article, Ian P. Henry deals with the issues of cultural pluralism and sport. According to him, several fields of action which can help overcome intolerance and racism have already been highlighted. One can mention legislation, education, cultural policy and, obviously, sport. The latter might indeed be used to improve intercultural dialogue and reduce tensions.

Nevertheless, one must take into account the diverse integration policies throughout the world and Europe especially. For instance, the French system of assimilation strongly differs from the so-called integration system, whereby minorities are not “absorbed”, but are accorded equality of rights and treatment. In this regard, they are supposed to adapt themselves to a majority host society. These perspectives lead to practical differences in sport policies. Indeed, a liberal multiculturalist state may foster cultural sporting exchanges, while a more unitarian national state will use sports as a tool to address the problem of social exclusion or urban renewal. This theoretical dispute raises the debate about social cohesion and the role of diversity.

Henry then asks the following question: “If sport is used for the purposes of integration, how can we explain and therefore evaluate impact in terms of benefits?”. Three examples are provided to give some practical insights. The first one is related to the Algerian Association in Nottingham, which organizes a Sunday morning football match. Secondly, the Bosnia-Herzegovina Community Centre in Derby set up a basketball team, competing in local leagues. The third example is a project established by the Madeley Community Centre in Derby, which aims to bring together the British Pakistani community and Kurdish asylum seekers.

Although some incidents were reported, and violence sometimes occurred, many secondary benefits might be claimed from these initiatives, the enrichment of personal and social capital being the most significant. From a sociological point of view, different capitals are raised through multicultural sporting activities:

–          Physical capital. The development of skills and healthy practices;

–          Psychological capital. The development of self-confidence and self-esteem, especially in case of trauma;

–          Personal social capital. The development of trust in others and the widening of social networks;

–          Bonding capital. The development of close ties between people, family, friends and neighbours;

–          Bridging capital. The development of relations between refugees / asylum seekers and the wider civil society;

–          Linking capital. The development of resources to involve organizations that can help minorities bring about broader change.

In conclusion, Henry argues that sport can play a major role in building an essential intercultural consensus. To help achieving such a goal, one must beforehand reject the essential view of separate and incompatible cultures. He says that “sport cannot solve the fundamental dysfunctions of a global society, but it can form a small part of contributions to wider solutions”.




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December 2011
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