Sports – The Opium Of People


Karl Marx legendary commented “Religion is the opium of the people.” In 21st Century, however, it can be said that it is actually sports that currently has substitute religion as the opium of the masses. (1) Psychologists are ended up on a conclusion that sport has almost similar impacts on audience the same as religion carries out.

It might appear strange, to associate sport entertainment with religion however it should be comprehensible that earlier to mass communications, religious rituals were a basis of pursuit for common people who hardly ever attend a theaters or went to a sporting events.

Wann and his colleague define sports in term of religion as natural religion, humanistic religion, and primitive polytheism relating that audience worships other human beings, their victories and the groups to which they belong. And that sports ground look a lot like cathedrals where supporters gather to worship their heroes and pray for their successes. [Wann, et al., 2001, p. 200].

If rite may be interesting, then amusement, as practiced in a sports arena, may be ritualistic. People gather and supporters wear their team colors and carry its icons, flags and lucky charms to boost up their team members. Then during the game there is recurring chanting of team encouragement, hand-clapping, mocking the other team, doing the wave, and so forth. The singing of an anthem at a sporting event likely has similar psychological effects as the singing of a holy song in church. (2)

According to Harris (1981), sports has turned into obsession, a passion, an intoxicating drug and well-known than just any substance. It is the new opiate of the people.

Sports: the opium of people?

Post 1945 US social and cultural history (general):

There is no skeptical that sports play a substantial role in the lives of many Americans and to be sure of many people around the world. It has become an integral part of American history and culture. Sports have been given unique importance by the US people. People worship sports like religion as mentioned before and sit in front of television for hours and hours even after the match is over.

History of baseball

Role of baseball in desegregation

Although the precise beginning of baseball is mysterious, most historians have the same opinion that it is established on English game of rounder’s. A sport that began to turn out to be relatively admired in this country in the premature 19th century and numerous findings account the rising fame of a game named “town ball, base, or baseball”.

Right through the premature element of the 19th century, little towns produced teams, and baseball clubs were created in bigger cities. Alexander Cartwright sought to make official a record of policies by which all teams could play in 1845.

Since 1945 in America, the World War II covers its outcome on sports as every strong and fit man among 18 to 26 was expected to serve up the military. There was scarcity of baseball bats, bowling pins and even the balls on hand were damp and unresponsive, but professional sports were encouraged to continue to recover the spirits of the troops. The President Roosevelt signed the Green Light letter to show his support to baseball. Half the baseball players had joined up by 1943.

Even though it was not a written rule but baseball had always been racially segregated. Jackie Robinson was the first person to end the racial discrimination in 1947. But addition of the African-American was very slow because of less acceptance of other minority. Baseball was fully integrated in early sixties when all the team stopped discriminating over cultural and ethnic difference.

More teams were introduced which meant more jobs for players. Attendance increased and national television and radio broadcast brought loads of money to baseball. But the players were not getting sufficient salary so; they decided to protest against it through their union.

The conflict between the players and owners never resolved. Many polices changes, many re-signed and strikes occurred by the players and owners to fulfill their wishes. Because of these conflicts for all those years the fan started to lose their hopes and it fallen behind other American sports. It would take a lot of efforts for baseball teams to regain its importance and prominence in American culture.

History of US football

US football culture

In 1879, American football becomes known from the European game of Rugby. The early rules of the game were designed by Walter Camp, who was a player and coach at Yale University. Therefore, he is known as The Father of American Football.

The end of the civil war in 1865 is the beginning of the football in colleges. In this year, the game got its patent and some of the basic rules were also set. In 1869, the first inter-collegiate football was played between Rutgers and Princeton.

Walter camp, a coach at Yale finalizes the rules of the games and gives the game the shape which today we know as the American Football. A little later downs were introduced and tackling below the belt was legalized.

But, the aggressive physical challenge that the game order, brought about many severe damages and deceases in the next few years. As a result, football was banned in many colleges. In 1905, under an instruction from President Theodore Roosevelt, Yale, Harvard and Princeton arrange a couple of discussions between schools and formed a seven member Rules Committee which was later came to be known as National Collegiate Athletic Association, or the NCAA.

Nowadays American Football has turned out to be a multi-billion dollar business. With the introduction of cable television, the game has gone across the borders of America and extends its wings all over the world. The super Bowl, that decides the national champion, has become the most watched sporting event of all times. Ample of goods and football products have taken the markets by storm. Hence from the meek history where football only seen as throwing or kicking a ball long-ago the opponents, American Football has appeared as a game which has influenced the culture and economy of the United States of America.

Sports as social control:

According to john Rawls, sports is the social union in a society where group of people valued common activities for themselves and take interest in each other’s achievements. It is argued that Sports reflect society in which they function. Society is lived by people whereas, sports are played by people. Sports are society in minuscule, fill with all its variance, benefits and deficiencies. Since sports have become the most public of all professions, they impose more duties. Sports figures are role models; it goes with the territory.

Sports is the opium of people argues?

Benefits of sports in term of international relations and diplomacy (Chinese ping pong games, Cold War sports, etc)

On the other hand, sport is the destructive weapons of the mass distraction. It is a major attention attractor. According to Terry Eagleton, if right-wing think tank wants to distract people from the political prejudice and pay compensation for their hard labor, so football would be the solution for both the case.

To resolve the conflict between states and encourage peace building in the nations, Kofi Annan in 2001 selected Adolf Ogi as UN Special Adviser on Sport, Development and Peace. In 2003 the UN adopted a resolution designating 2005 as the International Year of Physical Education and Sport, and called upon member states to consider a role for sport and physical education when devising development programmes and policies. The aim was that sport can help nations to accomplish UN goals and contribute to build peace, which led the UN to join hands with international and national sports authorities, which includes FA, FIFA and IOC.

The very beautiful thing about sports is that it can be pure quest that has a usual foundation. For that reason, a sport is beyond international politics. For instance, football, the rules of football will be same all over the world and everyone will play game in the game manner which gives an instant ground to build relations on.

One might argue that sport is perhaps one of the few spheres where nations can wage war against one another and its over after 90 minutes, at least for football. In the one month it takes to complete the world cup, teams will compete to claim the prestigious title of World Champions. Competing nations invest a lot in these competitions and the fervency with which nations support their teams is almost as intense as waging a war between states.

Sports have also become a method for countries that are facing internal struggles to start diplomatic relations.  For instance, while Ivory Coast was going through qualification for the 2006 World Cup, its National Football Association was hesitant to support the team due to the political turmoil within the country that began in 2002. However, the Ivorian football team wanted to end the divide of the nation between north and south and believed that participation in the World Cup would bridge this divide.

At this point in time, we have a chance to seize upon the World Cup as a method to showcase to the world the power of South Africa as a nation and Africa as a continent. The notion that nations use international tournaments, like the Olympics and the Football World Cup as a platform to exercise ‘soft power’ is worth examining. The US in 1936 had Jesse Owens, an African-American man; participate in the Olympics as a sign to the German government of their lack of support for the Nazi regime and its anti-Semitic policies.  As the World Cup has worldwide media that follow the month-long event, how will South Africa together with her African partners use this opportunity to reveal the deep hope for a brighter future that most Africans have? How can this tournament be used to demonstrate the pride and dignity of a continent whose history, pride, dignity and innovation has long been undermined in international relations? How can this continent which has given birth to Mandela, Nkrumah, Biko, Mogae, Lumumba, Madikizela-Mandela, Annan and many other heroes show the world that so called ‘soft power’ is indeed good for the whole world not just Africans?

In light of the role that sports have played in international relations in the past, South Africa’s successful bid to host the World Cup has shown the country has come a long way since the days of apartheid. It has also given South Africa the opportunity to divert the focus from ongoing problems such as wars in Sudan and DRC, stagnant economies in different African countries and citizens who still lack basic amenities. This doesn’t mean that these challenges should be ignored, but this is an opportunity to show that change has also come to Africa through South Africa.

Additionally, the world cup is being held in one of Africa’s fastest growing economies therefore  it is important to note the huge potential that South Africa brings to the table in terms of politics, economy and other areas that can foster development. For instance, on December 7th 2009, President Zuma visited his counter part President Banda of Zambia to establish and renew standing Memorandum of Understanding in the manufacturing, education and health sectors. This can be extended further not just to the SADC region but also to the entire continent and globe as well. Having risen from a past that was devastating on more than half of its population, South Africa can take the lead in roles of mediation and conflict resolution – the cases of Zimbabwe and Sudan, it can also solidify its role on the international scene as a heavy weight in international relations.

More questions will always be raised than answered when looking at an issue like the strength of a nation in international diplomacy and international relations. South Africa by being host of footballs’ greatest event must highlight the good that has been achieved in the country and on the entire continent. From successful democratic elections in Ghana, establishment of a government of unity in Kenya and the weathering of the economic crunch in emerging and established economies like Botswana and South Africa itself, Africa has and is still a resilient continent to contend with in all spheres.  Also, not only should the spotlight be on national governments but also on individuals that have dedicated their life’s work to the betterment of others. For instance, initiatives such as ‘The Elders’ brought together by Mandela is one that can be highlighted as one that has reaches outside Africa to the rest of the world.

Globalization has proved that politics of isolation are things of the past. International relations and diplomacy through sports and other mediums are the tools needed to forge a strong rainbow nation and continent. Regardless of the inroads we have made since the end of apartheid, South Africa has the opportunity in the World Cup to act as a shining beacon on the continent and once again, raise our voices in articulating Africa’s issues. As the song “My African Dream” states for Africa “there’s a new tomorrow…there’s a dream that we can follow.” And just like the slogan says, “Its Africa’s turn”.


Sports can be seen in both the ways. It increase conflicts and create differences among people but on the other hand it is use to bring people closer, resolve conflicts, peace building and also provide health, fun, enjoyment and, pulse-racing excitement.


Live Chat+1(978) 822-0999Email