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Multiculturalism began in education in the 1970s , and 1980s in the United States and Canada as a debate about expanding the core curricula in universities and schools to include not just works by white European males, but also the works and histories of marginalized ethnic and racial groups and women. In the 1980s it extended into identity politics, with marginalized minority groups criticizing the liberal humanist focus on the protection of individual rights, and arguing that rights should also be guaranteed to groups defined by a shared cultural identity.
This linked with a growing international concern in the 1980s and 1990s that a singular global culture, which was largely white and European, was rapidly wiping out local diversity around the world. Multiculturalists tended to focus on cultural institutions such as schools and museums, and cultural performances such as ethnic song, dance, dress, as sites where cultural diversity could be preserved and displayed. As an important genre of cultural performance, sports could have been an important realm for the multicultural debate, but they were not.
Spread of Multiculturalism into Sports
In the 1980s the end of state-supported socialist sport in Europe and the rapid globalization of sports produced a backlash. There was a multiplication of international competitions and sports festivals celebrating alternative local and ethnic identities, such as the First Games of the Small Countries of Europe, the First Inter-Island Games, the First Eurolympics of Minority Peoples, and so on. Although multiculturalism had begun in Canada, it did not enter the realm of sports in a big way there until the organization of the first North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) in 1990. The NAIG included “traditional aboriginal” sports such as archery, canoe, and lacrosse, as well as global sports such as track and ield, basketball, volleyball, boxing, and others. Thus, within this important multicultural intervention in sports, both global and indigenous sports symbolized ethnic identity.
Multiculturalism in the Olympic Movement
One of the most visible manifestations of the global order of nationally organized international sports is the Olympic Games, which began as an educational movement at the end of the nineteenth century that in many ways prefigured multiculturalism. In his biography of Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic Games, John MacAloon portrays Coubertin’s philosophy of “internationalism” as a respect for each national culture as expressed through the festive performance of difference. In an essay on “Mutual Respect,” Coubertin acknowledged that in the modern world it was not possible for a single faith to be valid for everyone, and therefore moral education should teach tolerance; mutual respect was the foundation of democracy. Neise Abreu observes that in some publications Coubertin distinguished nation from culture and advocated the doctrine of “all games, all nations” in the Olympic Games. However, this doctrine seemed to disappear after he withdrew from the presidency of the International Olympic Committee in 1925, when it was overshadowed by his notion of Olympism as a set of universal humanist values that places sport in the service of humankind.
Lamartine DaCosta advocates that the current emphasis on the universalistic traditions of Olympism needs to be balanced with a new pluralist humanism, and criticizes Olympic leaders and sport scholars for failing to put pluricultural Olympism into action. Konstantinos Georgiadis, the dean of the International Olympic Academy in Olympia, Greece—which in the past forty years has provided more educational seminars in Olympism to young people and educators from around the globe than any other single institution— also complains that multicultural education is underdeveloped within Olympic education. He states that good methods for teaching multiculturalism through sports have not been developed, that teaching materials are inadequate, and that teachers need to be aided in developing multicultural sensitivity.
Multiculturalism in Global Sports
Is the globalization of sports a process of homogenization or diversification? At the end of his survey of the global diffusion of sports through colonialism, Allen Guttmann argues against those who claim that the diffusion of sports is an imperialist destruction of authentic native cultural forms, although he admits that the standardized universality of modern sports represents a loss of diversity. Indigenous groups are active participants in the borrowing and they change the sports in the process.
MacAloon states that sports of Western origin have, over time, been emptied of their original cultural content and refilled with diverse local meanings by the people who practice them. Sports constitute “intercultural spaces” for cultural interaction, and cultural differences are created during the process of integration.
Joseph Maguire argues in a similar vein that globalization should be understood as a balance between diminishing contrasts and increasing varieties. Global sport both fosters a cosmopolitan consciousness and strengthens feelings of ethnic identity. Adding power differences into the picture, he advocates a process-sociological perspective that places questions of power, elimination struggles, and civilizational hegemony at its center. He notes that it is not inevitable that globalization will result in the continued rise of the West; the commingling of cultures through globalization could result in the decentering of the West.
The multicultural debate was slow to arrive in the world of sports and remained underdeveloped, even within the Olympic movement, which embraces more member nations and territories than any other major world organization. Scholarship on the sports of non-Western and marginalized minority groups was sparse. Despite the paucity of specific historical and ethnographic studies about how globalization actually occurs on the ground and what happens to indigenous sports when international sports are adopted in local communities, a few key theorists developed theoretical formulations that saw cultural diversification and homogenization not as mutually exclusive, but as multilayered simultaneous processes. As multiculturalism had already started to wane in other fields at the turn of the millennium, it was not clear that the multicultural debate would ever take off in the realm of sports.
- Abreu, N. (2002). Olympic multiculturalism: Proclaimed universal values versus cultural relativism. In L. P. DaCosta (Ed.), Olympic studies: Current intellectual crossroads (pp. 201-254). Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Editora Gama Filho.
- Coubertin, P. de. (1986). Le respect mutuel [Mutual Respect]. In N. Muller (Ed.), Pierre de Coubertin: Textes choisis [Selected writings of Pierre de Coubertin] (Vol. 1, pp. 316-350). Lausanne, Switzerland: International Olympic Committee. (Reprinted from L’Education des adolescents au XXe siècle: Vol. 3. Education morale [The education of adolescents in the twentieth century: Vol. 3. Moral education], 1915.
- DaCosta, L. P. (2002). Questioning Olympism: Pluralism, multiculturalism, or what else? In L. P. DaCosta (Ed.), Olympic Studies: Current intellectual crossroads (pp. 39-58). Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Editora Gama Filho.
- Georgiadis, K. (2001). International Olympic Academy: International understanding through Olympic education [Special issue]. The Journal of the International Council for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, Sport, and Dance, 27(2).
- Guttmann, A. (1994). Games and empires: Modern sports and cultural imperialism. New York: Columbia University Press.
- MacAloon, J. (1981). This great symbol: Pierre de Coubertin and the origins of the modern Olympic Games. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- MacAloon, J. (1995). Humanism as political necessity? Reflections on the pathos of anthropological science in pluricultural contexts. In J. Fernandez & M. Singer (Eds.), The conditions of reciprocal understanding (pp. 206-235). Chicago: International House.
- Maguire, J. (1999). Global sport: Identities, societies, civilizations. Cambridge, UK: Polity.
- Turner, T. (1993). Anthropology and multiculturalism: What is anthropology that multiculturalists should be mindful of it? Cultural Anthropology, 8(4), 411-429.
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