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Sport, the Media and National Identities

Info: 7013 words (28 pages) Dissertation
Published: 6th Jan 2022

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Tagged: International StudiesMediaSports


Falcous examines the sport-media-nationalism nexus by discussing the key themes and topics involved in mediasport nationalisms, corporate nationalisms, and globalization. He uses media representation of football in New Zealand, in particular the New Zealand All Whites, to illustrate what critical approaches to media content can reveal. Falcous concludes with future directions of research in the study of the sport-media-nationalism nexus.


That sport is a significant site for the ongoing construction and perpetuation of nationalism has been acknowledged by numerous authors during the past two decades (Cronin & Mayall, 1998; Maguire, 1999; Bairner, 2001; Miller et al 2000; Dyerson, 2003; Jarvie, 2003). Indeed, Silk et al (2005) have described sport as “arguably the most emotive – peacetime – vehicle for harnessing and expressing bonds of national cultural affiliation” (p6). We see this evident in the way that sporting events stimulate patriotic fervour, flag waving and carnivalesque scenes of national celebration, or in how national sports teams are viewed as barometers of a nation’s fortunes. Such literature echoes and extends Hobsbawm’s (1990) earlier and oft-cited reflection on the ‘uniquely effective’ (p.143) symbolic embodiments of the nation that sports can offer. He argued that:

“What has made sport so uniquely effective a medium for inculcating national feelings . . . is the ease with which individuals can identify with the nation as symbolised by young persons excelling . . . The imagined community of millions seems real as a team of eleven named people. The individual, even the one who only cheers, becomes a symbol of his nation himself.” (p.143)

Here, Hobsbawm (1990) captures the unique role of national sports teams acting as embodiment of the entire nation, bringing it ‘alive’ by making it tangible in the form of national teams. Interestingly, in his use of gendered language – perhaps unwittingly – he provides evidence of the male template that often dominate sporting enactments of nationalism. Furthermore, the fact that he chooses the number 11 – referencing association football or cricket illustrates his location in England, where those codes articulate to nationalism in significant ways. Yet differing sports articulate to nationalism across nations in varying and complicated ways. Whilst some are seen as central elements of ‘national’ cultures (e.g. baseball in the US, soccer in Brazil or England, and rugby union in New Zealand) other sports are marginal to senses of nations.

Numerous writers have identified the role of media as a key conduit for promulgating sporting nationalism, in particular, as a site for connecting specific national cultures with sporting practices. As Rowe, (1999) has noted: “media sport has the power to unite, temporarily or in the long term, symbolically or materially, disparate groups into relatively coherent groups of patriots or consumers” (p.103). Indeed, broadcasts of marquee sporting events (e.g. world cups, Olympic games) invariably provide the highest viewing figures of all television broadcasts, drawing audiences other genres cannot command. This reveals the broad appeal of televised sports that often pivot around their nationalistic appeal.

The media, critically, are not simply a conduit of the sport-nation connection, but are engaged in the active construction of selective versions of nationalism –a socially constructed belief system that legitimates the physical, legal and cultural borders of nations themselves. In this sense, Rowe et al (1998) point to “the key mythologizing role of the media” (p.120). Despite the significance of the media –sport-nationalism nexus, media scholars haven’t always accorded national identities a significant place within their research focus. Raney and Bryant’s (2006) Handbook of Sport and Media, for example, did not include a chapter dedicated to national identities among 34 contributions detailing key issues across the field.

In this chapter I, first, explain the key themes of knowledge development in the study of the sport-media-nationalism nexus, identifying conceptualisations, key topics and themes of analysis.

Second, I outline shifting evaluations of ‘the nation’ in light of the pressures associated with globalisation.

Third, I draw upon a case study of media representation of football in New Zealand to demonstrate key issues that critical approaches to media content can reveal.

Fourth, I highlight future directions of research and study.

Key Themes: Conceptualising Mediasport Nationalisms

The dominant approach to media sport nationalisms has drawn on socially critical theories that emphasise the capacity of mediated sport to actively construct nationalism and also to intersect broader social power relations. This emphasises the media as a key site in delineating what is privileged and celebrated within a particular nation’s sporting imagination and what may be marginalised or ‘forgotten’. Such an approach counters the tendency for nations to be popularly imagined as natural and immutable objects. In particular, Bairner (2009) notes how Benedict Anderson’s (1983) formulation of nations an ‘imagined communities’ has been a dominant trope within the sports literature. Additionally, drawing on the work of Norbert Elias figurational approaches have emphasised national ‘habitus codes’ and embodied feelings that inform and maintain national identities (see Maguire et al, 2009).

In the conceptualisation of nations as ‘imagined’ Anderson (1983) notes the pivotal role of “print-capitalism”. “The convergence of capitalism and print technology” he suggests, “set the stage for the modern nation” (1991, p.46). Media as a technology of communication provided the channel for the dissemination of shared cultures, vocabularies, myths and understandings. Newspapers and novels in Anderson’s formulation were followed and complimented by broadcasting via radio and then television, with sport always an important segment of output in actuating the nation. Indeed, mediated sporting events – such as the Melbourne Cup, FA Cup Final, Superbowl or Stanley Cup finals – are significant national cultural events of both celebration and symbolic unity. Mediated International sports events meanwhile are potent vehicles for evoking patriotic sentiment.

The critical approach, emphasising power relations, identifies how nationalist ideology often elides internal cultural difference within nations in favour of the myth of a homogenous national culture which rarely consists of equal partnership between component parts. ‘National cultures’, that is, tend to represent selective interests. In this regard researchers have highlighted how the illusion of national unity in and through sport is often entangled with underlying power struggles. This view portrays nationalism, as power-laden and often problematic.

Whilst drawing on varying theorisations, a host of researchers have provided analyses of media texts that demonstrate how the sporting media establish, define and reinforce the boundaries of particular national communities within the context of various contested identity politics (see Garland & Rowe 1999; Maguire & Tuck, 1998; Maguire & Poulton, 1999; Maguire et al, 1999; Bishop & Jaworski, 2003; Maguire & Burrows, 2005; Cosgrove & Bruce, 2005; Falcous, 2007; Falcous & West, 2009; Maguire et al 2009; Vincent et al, 2010). Such research reveals how mediasport can stimulate patriotism, how key protagonists (players and/or coaches) are often constructed as embodying the nation, and how the hierarchical caricaturing of other nationalities is often a feature. Often wistful nostalgia and wider geo-politics are invoked to heighten the apparent relevance and significance of sports results (see Maguire & Poulton, 1999).

Central to the promulgation of a coherent narrative of national unity is the need to reconcile the social divisions of the nation along the lines of, for example: class, gender, and ethnicity. Scholarship has widely suggested that across differing national contexts, discourses of national identity both reflect social hierarchies and contribute to the maintenance of gendered and ethnicized hierarchies. For example Hogan’s (2003) work on Olympic opening ceremonies identifies them as “elaborately staged and commercialized narratives of nation.” (p.102). She explicates this with examples from Japan, Australia and the USA which follow a formula to promote tourism, international corporate investment, trade, and political ideologies. In these cases she identifies discourses of national identity “that mirror relations of dominance potentially legitimiz[ing] and sustain[ing] long-standing hierarchies of power in each nation” [p.119].

In the case of ethnicity, Cosgrove & Bruce (2005) in their study of New Zealand press coverage surrounding the death of sailor Sir Peter Blake, reveal how coverage worked to ‘re-anchor’ white-settler masculinity as at the core of the nation’s patriarchal self-imaginings. Hogan’s work on Olympic opening ceremonies, however, also reveals that such discourses are inherently dynamic, open to contestation, and have the potential to both mirror and amplify changes in the status of subordinated social groups. In relation to gender, Wensing and Bruce’s (2003) analysis of coverage of Aboriginal-Australian Cathy Freeman during the Sydney 2000 Olympics reveals an instance in which gender lost its place as the primary media framing device because of Freeman’s importance as a symbol of national ethnic reconciliation. Such findings reveal the power of nationalist discourse to temporarily displace the skewed ‘gendering’ of media sport, albeit in temporary ways.

Whilst researchers have highlighted the power-laden constructedness of the nation, critics have pointed out that nationalism is not merely an ideology or ‘imagined’ (see Easthope, 1999), but “is in fact a much wider, lived experience in a relation between social structure and subjectivity” (see Anderson, 1991, p5). This critique is particularly pertinent to the sport literature where, Bairner (2009) notes that the tendency to focus on nations as ‘imagined’, ignores the structural and material aspects of nationalism, and also to be added to that the concepts of habitus and identity formation.

Key Themes: Globalization and Corporate Nationalisms

There has been much debate concerning how national cultural identities are effected by globalisation. As Hedetoft (1999) notes, “nation-states and their identity structures are being reforged by forces of globalization which make them reactors to transnational processes more than shapers of those processes” (p.89). Specifically, the transnationality of corporate operations, economic processes, global governance, new modes of communication, and migration have increasingly challenged the longstanding certainty of national cultures as a cornerstone of modernity.

Within globalisation debates the worldwide restructuring of media is frequently read as exemplary evidence of the collapse of the significance of national boundaries. Specifically, the intersection of the neo-liberal deregulation of national markets; corporate conglomeration; the emergence of new technologies of delivery facilitating subscription-based networks has characterised the “new media order” dominated by conglomerated leviathans with multiple ‘holdings’ across various locales (Morley & Robins, 1995). Concerns regarding the threat to national cultures resulting specifically from the concentration of media have been widely aired (Herman & McChesney, 1997). Indeed, it is increasingly possible to consume sport from all corners of the globe usually premised on the ability to pay; which has opened up a breadth of new forms of identification beyond one’s nation.

Relating to these processes, debates surrounding ‘corporate nationalisms’ (see Silk et al, 2005) have observed the conscious articulation of global corporate brands to national sporting symbolism and narratives as they seek resonance in national markets. Under the term ‘corporate nationalisms’ Silk at al (2005: 7) capture this trend. At its most virulent, they note, “the nation is thus corporatized, and reduced to a branded expression of global capitalism’s commandeering of collective identity and memory (p.7). There are more than economic issues at stake.

Narratives of nation within corporate media not only ensure the resonance of brands. As Bell (2004) notes, advertising fulfils both economic and cultural functions. She continues, “[it] tries to sell products while reinforcing secure mythologies about the context in which such items might be used . . . It also invite[s] us to respond to objects and situations that match our own self-image or fantasies” (p.180). In this sense corporate advertising that draws upon narratives of the sporting nation directly feed into the exercise of cultural power at the national level. The concern in this regard is the selective re-imagination of the (sporting) nation in line with the needs of corporate accumulation. Thus transnational influences are shaping national sporting cultures in significant ways.

Simultaneously national entities remain significant. As Held and McGrew point out, “national institutions continue in many states to have a central impact on public life” (p30). Prominent in this regard are national media: press; television and radio. Indeed, notwithstanding conglomeration and transnational patterns of ownership of media outlets, the organisation and focus of such media retains strong national roots. With this issues in mind this chapter explores the constructions of nationalism via a national press. As Bairner (2009) cautions “seldom is the linkage between sport and national identity straightforward and it is only by looking at particular nationalities that its nuances are revealed.

It is worth adding to Bairner’s observation that it is by exploring the contested and contingent nature of the linkage between specific sports and nationalist ideology that the complexity of sporting ‘patriot games’ can be revealed. I now turn to a research example exploring how the mediation of association football (soccer) in New Zealand meshes with broader national anxieties and the cultural hierarchies they entangle. A case study of press coverage of the 2010 FIFA World Cup coverage reveals how media selectively construct the nation in light of wider contexts, politics and identities (see Falcous, 2015).

Case Study: The Case of the New Zealand ‘all whites’

Association Football (soccer) has historically occupied a subordinate status within New Zealand relative to the domineering presence of (men’s) rugby union for men. Rugby by contrast has acted as a means to assert a unique male settler-defined national identity by consistently beating the former British imperial master at their own game (yet claiming the game to be ‘indigenized’ in playing style and ethos), whilst remaining connected to imperial networks in doing so. Football has not been celebrated as a national symbol in the same ways, and has not enjoyed playing success internationally.

As Guoth (2006) notes, historically the media played a key role in popularising rugby union over football as the ‘national game’. Qualification by the national men’s team – nicknamed the ‘all whites’ – for the 2010 World Cup finals led to speculation that their appearance in South Africa could re-position football within the national sporting hierarchies. In a case study analysing New Zealand press reportage of the team I reveal how broader social currents, national anxieties and hierarchies permeate media representation of the event. Adopting a critically discursive approach I collected, catalogued and analysed a total of 541 articles from national and regional newspapers and internet news sources throughout the tournament.

New Beginnings, Old Hierarchies? The 2010 All Whites

Pre-tournament coverage centred on how the ‘underdog’ all whites – ranked 78th in the world – would perform. The Waikato Times acknowledged success was far from likely, noting: ‘we’re footballing minnows’ (19/06/10). As the tournament loomed, Chris Rattue in NZHerald.co.nz speculated that ‘soccer has the chance of a re-birth in this country’ (11/06/10). As the first game loomed Fred Woodcock of the Dominion Post/stuff.co.nz suggested that a win or draw in South Africa would be ‘a magnificent day for New Zealand sport’ (07/01/10). A further article appeared under the title: ‘Here Come the Not-so-All Whites’ (Stuff.co.nz, 10/06/10), and presaged a theme that ran throughout coverage of the tournament. Worth quoting at length, it read:

‘ . . . How times have changed since the New Zealand football team was primarily comprised of British expatriates. Of the All whites’ likely line up against Slovakia, only two . . . were born overseas. Defender Winston Reid, despite living half his life in Denmark, is proud of his Maori heritage, midfielder Jeremy Christie’s whanau [family] are from Northland, while midfielder Leo Bertos and striker Rory Fallon have Maori mothers. . . It may take another generation, but [they] will eventually become much more ‘representative’ of New Zealand . . . Football has long been characterised as a mainly middle-class Pakeha [white settler] sport. . . Glance around your local junior football fields on a Saturday morning and you’ll see more Maori, Pasifika and Asian players. Some will graduate to the national ranks one day, which may change or temper the All Whites’ traditionally anglocentric style of play’ (emphasis added).

Here the journalist, posits the presence of four Māori players in the World Cup squad as evidence that soccer is no longer solely a Pākehā domain, but is in fact now ethnically inclusive and reflecting broader social flux. In a similar pre-tournament coverage, The Otago Daily Times emphasized Winston Reid’s ‘Maori heritage’, and his desire to ‘encourage more Maori participation in soccer’ (11/06/10). Thus football was re-framed in the context of the nation’s diversity, and distanced from a hitherto anglocentric image.

Battling Kiwis, and Bi-culturally Reconciled Football Fields

In the event the lowly ranked all whites exceeded expectations drawing three times, including with holders Italy, but were ultimately knocked out. Media coverage was frenzied and briefly knocked rugby from the spotlight. New Zealand’s goal in the opening game was scored by defender Winston Reid who became a media cause celeb in the days following the game. He was headlined as ‘an instant hero’ (stuff.co.nz, 16/06/10) and ‘national treasure’ (Otago Daily Times, 19/06/12). Most notably, and continuing the pre-tournament framing of football as newly ethnically inclusive noted above, there was an explicit emphasis on his Māori whakapapa (genealogy).

The NZHerald (11/06/12), for example, noted Reid’s ‘Maori heritage’, emphasizing he was ‘a Maori kid from the north’. Following his goal, the NZHerald asserted that ‘Reid carries Maori cause’ and further suggested that ‘soccer demographics are changing, aided by immigration and new perceptions’ (15/05/10). The Waikato Times (16/06/10) described Reid as ‘the 21 year-old Maori lad’. News web-site stuff.co.nz also emphasized his ethnicity (also referencing that he played his club football in Denmark) referred to Reid as ‘The maori viking’. The New Zealand Herald noted that ‘Winston Reid’s whanau (family) say they’re bubbling with pride after watching their man become New Zealand soccer’s most famous name . . . [it] Bodes well for soccer’s ability to attract more Maori players’ (18/06/10). Thus, Reid was constructed as emblematic of the new-found inclusivity of football, his achievements posited as the vanguard of the ‘democratisation’ of the game by attracting more Māori players.

Similarly, defender Rory Fallon was profiled on stuff.co.nz as ‘proud part-Maori’ (18/06/10), a ‘proud member of the Ngati Porou iwi [tribe]’ (23/06/10), and All Whites coach Ricki Herbert was noted as ‘researching his Ngati Whatua ancestry’. Fallon’s desire to inspire minorities in to football was headlined in stuff.co.nz: ‘Fallon keen to inspire Maori, Polynesian talent’ (25/06/10) which emphasized football as a new site of non-European achievement. Football participation statistics, however, reveal media assertions of inclusivity at the elite level suggesting a larger democratization of football to be distorting (see Table 1).

Table 1. Ethnic Profile of football participants in New Zealand

  Population overall Percentage of Football Participation
NZ European/Pākehā 67.6% 68%
Māori 14.6% 9%
Pacific 6.9% 8%
Asian 9.2% 15%

These figures demonstrate that Māori are actually underrepresented nationally in football, Pākehā have roughly proportional representation and ‘Asian’ New Zealanders are overrepresented on the nation’s football fields. In this sense, coverage lauding the apparent inclusivity of football at the elite level and in particular the presence of Māori players is distorting when the overall national picture is seen. The statistics also reveal the chronic under representation of ‘Asian’ New Zealanders in the national team, despite over-representation nationally.

Furthermore, and tellingly, coverage ignored the complexities of Winston Reid’s particular case. Reid moved from New Zealand to Denmark aged ten, had represented Denmark 16 times at under-19, under-20 and under 21 level, took Danish citizenship in 2006 and played his club football there. Following FIFA rule changes he became eligible for New Zealand as he had not represented Denmark at senior level. In March of 2010, just three months ahead of the tournament, he opted to play for New Zealand. Reid himself was candid about his desire to put himself in the foremost marketplace of international football labour, noting, ‘one of the reasons I decided to represent New Zealand at the World Cup was to attract more attention’ (from a Danish newspaper web-site cited in stuff.co.nz, 30/06/10).

Notably this quote did not receive widespread exposure in the New Zealand press, which largely ignored the complexities of Reid’s allegiances, instead emphasizing his statements of pride in his Māori heritage and New Zealand connections. Stuff.co.nz, for example, referred to him as ‘Auckland-born’ and ‘the lad from Takapuna, via Denmark’ (Stuff.co.nz, 16/06/10). Reid’s case reveals how allegiances to nation are complex, indeed often flexible, especially for football labour migrants. Yet the media discourse was an essentialising and simplifying one, which worked to present an ethnically inclusive team (and hence, by extension, nation) with Reid the key embodiment of that, thus eliding complications surrounding his evidently fluid loyalties, and instrumental shift of national allegiance for the 2010 World Cup.

The Kiwi Archetype and Physical Football

A consistent theme of coverage connected the team to idealized notions of ‘national character’. The NZherald.co.nz, for example, praised the team’s ‘good work ethic’ (11/06/10), whilst stuff.co.nz attributed the draw against Slovakia to ‘100 percent kiwi grit’ (16/06/10), and later emphasized ‘good-old Kiwi grit and determination’ (20/06/10). The Waikato Times referred to the team as ‘battlers’ (31/05/10), and credited the opening draw to ‘indomitable, never-say die Kiwi grit’, and later described a ‘team of kiwi battlers’ and ‘plucky underdogs’ (26/06/10). Buoyed by the opening game, stuff.co.nz, suggested the ‘big solid team’ was built on ‘physical prowess’ (17/06/10). NZHerald similarly emphasized ‘physical size and doggedness’ as a means to overcome a lack of ‘star power and raw talent’ of other teams. (10/06/12). The aggressive and robust style of football, it was suggested was ‘a style ingrained in the national psyche’ by stuff .co.nz (18/06/10).

Following a surprise draw with World Cup holders, Italy, stuff .co.nz headlined the ‘gritty All Whites’ (21/06/10) and framed the game as ‘one of the most heroic hour-long rearguard actions in the history of New Zealand sport’ (21/06/10). NZherald.co.nz noted the performance to be based on ‘sheer guts and determination’ (21/06/10). The idea of grit, determination and resourcefulness as nationally shared traits are rooted in white-settler circumstance and ideals that subsequently have been extended to all within the nation. As Ahmed (2000: 99) notes, the delineation of the discursive boundaries of nation ‘takes place alongside the production of national character as instances in which ‘the nation’ itself is fleshed out as place and person’ (emphasis in original). As we noted above, this was borne out in the case of Winston Reid as an ‘exemplary other’, but also in important and differing ways through veteran captain Ryan Nelsen.

Nelsen was conveyed as a consummate professional and leader, as ‘the on-field architect’ who ‘(led) from the front’ (Sunday Star-Times, 14/06/10). Nelsen was also conveyed as a loyal family man, stuff.co.nz carrying a story about having his child’s name stitched on his boot and emphasising him as a devoted father who ‘would head home if his wife went into labour early’ (18/06/10). For the first game stuff.co.nz/Waikato Times emphasised his patriotism suggesting ‘Nelsen had set the scene with his focus . . . clutching his silver fern on his shirt and bowing his head as he belted out God Defend New Zealand’ (16/06/10). As a leader, Nelsen was heralded in glowing terms: ‘one player – Nelsen – is the irreplaceable driving force as well as being chief spokesman and hand shaker’ emphasised NZ Herald (11/06/10).

He was also headlined as ‘Born to lead the all whites’ (stuff.co.nz, 13/06/10), and ‘captain fantastic’ (NZ Herald, 16/06/10; Sunday Star Times, 27/06/10), a ‘talisman’ (The Dominion Post, 19/06/10), ‘straight-talking skipper’ (NZHerald.co.nz, 21/06/10), ‘a leader and defender who inspires his team-mates’(Waikato Times, 12/06/10; stuff.co.nz, 12/06/10) and ‘captain courageous’ (stuff.co.nz, 23/06/10, Waikato Times 26/06/10). After the event he was described as ‘a great New Zealander’ (stuff.co.nz, 25/06/10), and as having emerged ‘as a national idol’ (Waikato Times 25/06/10). Here, Nelsen is presented as an archetype of an essentialised kiwi essence: determined, strong and leading in against the odds circumstances, yet also humble, family oriented and straight talking. As with Winston Reid, there is more complexity to Nelsen’s loyalties than the picture of an unswerving New Zealand patriot paints.

The heroic portrayal of Nelsen largely omitted to note that Nelsen was absent from the national side between 2004 and 2008 as he sought to establish his career in the English premier league , and as a protest at the treatment of former national team coach by the national federation. These complexities were ignored in portrayals of Nelsen as an unswerving patriot. In marked contrast to Reid, Nelsen’s ethnicity was unspoken in all coverage. Thus, and in familiar ways, whilst Nelsen was liturgised as emblematic of New Zealandness, his ethnicity remained unmarked, yet it is clear that the ‘battling kiwi’ is a white – Pākehā – archetype. Just as the national archetype was ethnicised it was also gendered. With very few exceptions, female voices, as journalists, commentators, pundits, or sources were entirely absent.

The idealisation of select ‘kiwis’ noted above was complimented by the caricaturing of ‘others’ outside the nation. Reflective of the ‘sibling rivalry’ of the (former) white settler colonies at the outer edges of empire Australia’s poor performances in the tournament were mocked, whilst coverage of the Italians stigmatised and caricatured in ways that reflected a fusion of New Zealand’s history of wartime imperial loyalty to Britain, and an anglo-whiteness that is privileged over Mediterranean white cultures.

In sum, coverage of the national football team was entangled in the complex post-colonial anxieties of national identity formation. In doing so it entrenched the mythic male settler -centered national character. Familiar tropes of New Zealand ‘character’: tough, loyal, determined, plucky, stoic, and honest draw upon long-standing white-settler, male values valorizing hard work and resilience in tough (frontier) circumstances. Framings of Ryan Nelsen as the archetypical kiwi informed these constructions, yet his Pākehā ethnicity was unmarked in this coverage as were complexities around his loyalty to the national team. Yet these complexities were disregarded in favour of football being framed as a site to idealise New Zealandness.

Winston Reid meanwhile emerged as a celebrated symbol on the basis of his Māori heritage as an embodiment of inclusive football, and hence the nation’s apparent tolerance. Yet, the complexities of his flexible allegiances were ignored. In contrast, there was no mention of other players’ wide ranging ethnic affiliations. The media emphasis on the inclusion of Māori alone coheres with a tendency to privilege bi-culturalism rather than multiculturalism within contemporary New Zealand nationalism. Whilst the demographic reality of the nation is multicultural, the emphasis on bi-cultural inclusivity, provides a bulwark to anxieties about whether the nation has reconcilled its colonial past through an emphasis on Māori-Pākehā relations as the centre of the nation.

Illusory media assertions of ethnically inclusive football thus assuage anxieties surrounding both the legacy of contemporary social inequalities, and histories of eurocentrism within football. This apparent inclusivity is not reflected in broader participation statistics. In this regard press coverage can be seen to inform the construction of the nation in highly selective and multiply layered ways. Furthermore, sports coverage is often seen as a benign site devoid of ‘serious’ politics so the myths can selectivity circulate as part of a bigger set of representations of the national character, and go largely uncritiqued

Future Directions of Research and Study

The sport-nationalism-media nexus is an ever-shifting dynamic. The mediasport landscape is in a state of flux whilst nationalist ideologies are constantly made and remade. The rapidly evolving media landscape, for instance presages shifts in the scope and capacity for media to stimulate nationalistic expression. In particular as ‘new’ media (see Dart, 2014) continues to develop and reshape the ownership, structure, production and delivery of sport it opens up possibilities to reshapes the formulation and expression of nationalism (see Cleland, 2014). Researchers have pointed to the scope for ‘new media’ to be a potentially productive site of research enquiry (see Millward, 2008; Gibbons & Dixon, 2010).

Whilst much attention has focussed upon media texts – particularly television and the press little research has focussed on the production of media. The role of ownership and control of media at the macro-scale, and media professionals at the micro level in the construction of sporting nationalisms requires more attention. Similarly, more work is needed to explore how media audiences make sense of mediated sports. Following Hobsbawm (1991), Mewett (1999) notes the tendency to emphasise how elites – symbolised in and through media – foster and sustain national identities which ignores how expressions of belonging to the nation may exist in diverse ways. Mewett (1999, pp.358-359) suggests that “if we are to develop an understanding of the emotive power of national identity, it is necessary to move beyond elites, intellectuals and nationalist mouthpieces and look, instead, at how ordinary people affirm the idea of nationhood”. Indeed, little attention has been focussed upon how ‘ordinary’ people embrace sport as a site to contest or assert alternative versions of nationalism through explorations of how ordinary people embrace the mediated (sporting) nation.


Dyerson (2003) posits sport as “one of the key social technologies for constructing modern nationalism” (p.94), and it is through its mediation that most citizens experience the sporting ‘patriot games’ that can bring the nation ‘alive’. The mediation of sporting nationalism is rife for the active construction of narratives, stories and the selective celebration of sports within the nation. As noted above, the discourse of nationalism is a powerful one, even potentially displacing gendered narratives that are so often the defining feature of mediasport coverage. Critical researchers have shown how sporting patriot games are entangled with wider processes of power within and across nations.

In this regard the media articulates sport to the nation in varying ways. Some events, teams and individuals are seen to have high ‘national importance’ – mediated as key symbolic embodiments of a given nation. Others are minimised or forgotten altogether. Across the lines of gender class, race and ethnicity the nation is also constructed. I have presented a case study of national press coverage in New Zealand which demonstrates how media can selectively construct the (sporting) nations in light of wider contexts, anxieties politics and identities that characterise them.

With heightened global interconnectedness the status of nation states has been subject to new pressures. The commercial transformation of sport has reflected this as global media offerings give the scope for new forms of consumption and identification, alongside nationally resonant sports. Alongside this, the scope for ‘corporate nationalisms’ has increased as global corporations increasingly seek ways to connect with local ‘national audiences’ and often use sport as cultural shorthand in doing so (Silk et al 2005). Yet, corporate renditions of national sporting cultures are driven by the selective re-imagination of the (sporting) nation in line with the needs of corporate accumulation and there is a need to scrutinise these processes with inclusion and democracy in mind.


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