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Liberation Through PLAY

TITLE: Sport As An Industry In The 21st Century: Understanding the Philosophical And the Psychological Underpinnings To Play And Games.

AUTHOR: Dr. I MAN BLAK

 

INTRODUCTION

The With the 2018 Winter Olympics with all its suspense and drama (athletically, Jamaica, Nigeria participation) and politically, defusing the ‘nuclear tension’ on the Korean Peninsula) just concluded in Pyeonchang, South Korea the Athletic world maintains its attention on South Korea with the staging of the 2018 Winter Paralympics.   The Paralympic Games is a major international multi-sport event  involving athletes with a range of disabilities. There are Winter and Summer Paralympic Games, which since the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, South Korea, are held almost immediately following the respective Olympic Games.

The Olympics Games become my point of entrance into my topic: Sport as an Industry: Understanding the Philosophical and Psychological Underpinnings to Games and Play. There is of course the theoretical discourse that often precedes any practical approach to the application or practicality of sport. Thus for this paper, the concepts of play, games, sport and industry are interrogated.

On PLAY

There is a social adage that reminds us that “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”.[ Not sure if Jill would respond in similar vein. She might just get ‘angry’;   leaving one to contemplate ‘what is Work’ and by extension ‘what is the real value of Play’ in society.  

Play is a difficult concept to define. It appears to be one of those constructs that is obvious at the tacit level. But difficult to articulate in concrete terms- yet we all know it when we see it or experience it. It is one of the important fundamental concepts of human interaction whose definition can also be culturally and politically constrained.

It can be observed that an animal will ‘nibble quite carefully’ without biting in one instance and yet knows when to bite for its own survival. It can be therefore discerned that during Play there is an existing “state of Consciousness” that allows both animals and humans to recognize ‘serious’ Play from ‘fun’ Play.

  Play Theories can be divided into two categories. The classical theories (Groos, Schiller, et al) are influenced by the theory of evolution. Groos’ Practice Theory was one of the most commonly accepted explanations available in literature. Groos argues that Play allowed humans and animals to rehearse the daily activities of their lives. He suggests that during Play and imitation, the organism learns to master the senses of survival (touch, hearing, motor kinesthetic, etc.).

The modern theories of Freud, Piaget, et al see Play as more integrated with the development of the individual. The newest theories of Play emphasize communication, cognitive adaptation, Play as flow and Play as giving excitement and richness to life.[1] Generally, by age two, children have learned how to play- imaginatively, and much of their time in the next two years is spent negotiating with other children about pretending. Psychologists agree generally that between ages four and seven children develop an interest in organized group play with rules. Importantly, Group Play provides an opportunity to experiment with being a Leader as well as a follower, a situation that rarely occurs outside of Play. Under the protection of Play, people can be sympathetic or aggressive, anxious or hostile, and show love, hate, or jealousy. They can expose their emotions with a feeling of safety. Susan Butt argues that,

“[…] through development of and experimentation with rule-application in Play, children learn why rules are to be obeyed, how mutual commitments to rules are maintained, and how defiant/deviant behavior can be brought into line. Butt (1987:52) concludes, “[…] free undirected play is essential for the early development of children. Ideally, a part of each child’s life needs to be spent in free-play with Self or with others”.

The Recreational Theory of Play (Lazarus) suggests that the primary p purpose of Play is to revitalize the individual; an antidote for tense nerves, mental fatigue, and emotional unrest. Lazarus advanced the theory that “children are most inclined to play when they have an excess of physical and mental energy”.  Extensive research on Play with children and adult in anthropology, psychology, and education indicates that Play is an important mediator for learning and socialization.

According to Roger Cai llois (1961:167) in Man, Play and Games, “[…] the further removed Play is from reality the greater is its educational value for it does not teach facts but rather develops aptitudes.” Current theories of Play are generally organized around four themes: Play as progress; Play as power; Play as fantasy; and Play as Self. These themes have been inspired in large part by the work of Brian Sutton-Smith (Pelligrini, 1995) Play as power refers to contests or competitions in which winners and losers are declared.[2] Play as fantasy refers to Play’s role in liberating the mind to engage in creative and imaginative thinking. Play as progress concerns the belief that the purpose of Play is to learn something useful, as a means to improve or enable psychological or social needs. Play as Self places value on play’s role as a way to achieve optimal life experiences. Structured Play (games) provides the platform or stage on which this type of self- expression can be developed.      

The common sense tendency is for people to define Play as the opposite of Work; often citing work as respectable and Play as not. Huizinga (1955:28) in Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture declares that Play is one of the “pillars of civilization” and that this play-element was being destroyed by “modern society” (i.e. industrial England). Play becomes institutionalized in the form of organized games, entertainment, spectator events and social occasions, and thus become a part of cultural reality.

The binary configuration of ‘work and play’ creates an imaginary  ‘x – axis’ which places a higher social value at one end (work ) with diminished value at the other-end (play).Interestingly, often times the work of one person is the play (hobby) of another. For example, a cabinet worker who works with wood all day may have an avid interest  in music and plays for his spare time, while a professional musician may enjo woodwork as a recreational activity. When Play becomes work there are political, social and economic ‘spin-offs’ that impact on society in general.

Play is not idleness when surrounded by an economic philosophy!

Na’im Akbar (1996:4) in Breaking the Chains of Psychological Slavery reminds us that

          Work, in a natural society, is looked upon with pride, both because it permits persons to express themselves and because it supplies their survival needs.

However, within the context of Caribbean societies, Akbar reminds us that:

During slavery, work was used as a punishment…work came to be despised as any punishment is despised. Work became hated as does any activity which causes suffering and brings no reward for the doer. Work became equated with slavery. Consequently, enslaved Africans equated work with enslavement  and freedom with the avoidance of work. Work was identified as the activity of the underdog and was difficult to be viewed with pride. p.5

On GAMES

Games, like Art, Music and Dance evolve out of ‘cultural expressions/ formations/ creations’ and represent ‘organized’ Play as distinguished from ‘free’ self-directed play. In other words, Games emerge from the intrinsic culture of Play, while the introduction of rules sets a ‘social framework’ for ‘authority and power’, behavior and attitude, reward and punishment, etc.  as it relates to ‘who constructs the rules /and or who governs the game. The presence of laws becomes the signifiers of a game. Games can become “models of real life situations” in which the issues are quite obvious and the participants can become engaged without the confusion that surrounds everyday action and decision making. One of the basic function of Games is to intensify human experience in ways that are relatively safe, even while they provide suspense and excitement.

From word games to board games to court and field games, the innate nature of  play  creates an arena or ‘sphere of activity’ where ...games can become "models of real life situations" in which the issues are quite obvious and the participants can become engaged without the confusion that surrounds everyday action and decision making. The basic function of games is to intensify human experience in ways that are relatively safe, even while they provide suspense and excitement. Many games can be enjoyed solitarily. For example, crossword puzzles, mathematical puzzles, etc. Most games require some "tension of opposites", that is, at the root of most games one can observe nature's "forces of opposition”   at work / play”. Games can also be distinguished from play by these "internal oppositions” exemplified by attack vs. defense, chase and escape, win and lose.

 Typically, games simulate the more intense human experiences: physical combat, intellectual contest, and the expectancy and excitement involved in unpredictable results.

 

 

Recreational vs Competitive Games

Games played for 'recreational' purposes often serve as a source of relaxation, and provides an opportunity to 'laugh at oneself'. Recreational games tend to promote fellowship and camaraderie through participation while allowing personal 'fantasies' through 'role-playing' to be acted out.

Competition

Generally, youths enjoy competition while nearly all competitive games are confrontational by nature with the aim to achieve an empirical result...preferably a win/victory.  Competition is contestation; and contest implies 'struggle'. And each individual is faced with a 'daily struggle', competing against time, himself, fellow-man, teams, institutions, etc for the ‘basic’ needs of survival (money, shelter, food, security, recognition, etc.) Some games can be played with little skill while others require organized arrangements, special equipment, etc. 

Games of physical Skill are those in which the outcome is determined by the athletic abilities of the players. In modern society, the simplest physical-skill games are such contests as races, archery, and darts.

Games of Chance known from ancient times are mainly those which were played on a board. The simplest such games usually involve some form of dice or random number selection that determines the outcome, such as bingo or the lottery. Under certain conditions, games of chance have a cultural importance. While sports are frequently the object of government subsidy, games of chance (lotteries) to the degree that they are state-regulated, contribute to the state's revenue. Such is the tenacious seduction of 'chance' that economic systems which abominate lotteries must grant them a place even if restricted and almost disreputable. Games of chance do not seem to exist among animals.

Games of physical contact bring out greater emotional responses and passion from both participants and spectators. Non-contact sports such as swimming and lawn tennis tend to have less crowd behavior issues.

Video/Computer Games

Video games are in many ways a symbolic substitute for living in difficult conditions where one must learn to adapt to constantly recurring emergencies. The video/computer game is not simply a game of physical skill, chance or strategy but combines all of these to produce something completely new. 

Empires and institutions my disappear, but Games and Sport, someteimes with similar rules and equipment, tend to survive. From a cultural standpoint, the ancient Olympic Games first recoded in 776 b.c. could be called the birth of organized sports.

On SPORT

Sport means different things to different people. The word ‘SPORT’ comes from the French word “desporter” which translates to mean ‘to move away from work’. And if one were to ‘move away from work’ along the ‘imaginary x-axis’ one would move towards ‘play’. When then does one really get the opportunity  to REST?

The ‘conventional functionalist’ approach analyses sports using the normative/abnormal mode. These theories maintain that society consists of interrelated and interdependent institutions, including the family, and religions. Each institution has a function in maintaining social control and balance in society. (Cummings 1996:91). On the other hand ‘conflict theorists (Hoch, etc al) argue that “[…] sport is a means by which the powr elite controls the  masses and maintain that sport is a dehumanizing escape and is used to rob the masses of their will to be creative, thus perpetuating a system that is controlled by monied, powerful individuals and corporations.” Vinnai (1980), sees sports as “[…] a means of controlling the masses and as an institution that ewakens the revolutionary potential of the deprived.”

George Sage (1990:12) in Power and Ideology in American Sport argues that,

Sport is a set of social practices and relations that are structured by the Culture in which it exists; and any adequate account of sport must be rooted in an understanding of its location within society”.

In addition, John Hargreaves (1983:6) in Sport Power and Culture note that:

Sporting activities can never be adequately explained purely as an instrument of social harmony, a means of self-expression or as a vehicle for satisfying individual needs; for this ignores the divisions and conflicts, and the inequalities of power in society, which if we dare to look closely, register themselves in sport.. In each successive epoch of human history, sport is integrally related to the political and social structures dominant at the time. Often, sport reflects division of power, wealth, and class; sometimes it erodes these barriers”.

Sports are an important part of many people’s lives, both as a pursuit and as a pastime. It can influence people in subtle ways, helping shape their ideas about how life work and about what is acceptable behavior. Success at sports instills in entire schools and / or communities, and by extension, both civil and political societies (the nation). Sporting success provides ‘psychic elevation; which is hardly comparable to any other field of endeavor. According to the Sir Norman Chester Centre for Football Research

Sport is a common site for racism, in part because ‘biological’ and genetic assumptions about the physical capabilities of Blacks are set alongside racist assumptions about their supposed intellectual limitations. It is strong on Britain because of the historical links between sports, the nation, and Empire which themselves emerge out of racist traditions including, of course, slavery.[3]

Sports have been a significant cultural and political fcus for the resistance to and the eventual   liberation (break away) from colonial rule in Africa and the Caribbean. From an African – Caribbean perspective, Sport can be analyzed viewed from the perspective / as a site of cultural activities (entertainment). Sport can also be viewed as a site of Contestation, Struggle, a ‘site of resistance’ to domination, Identity-formation, Leadership training, and economic and political development.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, developments associated with the Industrial Revolution in Europe facilitated a significant change in sport. Improved means of electricity and transportation- railways and ships- revolutionized the notion of travel and facilitated the spread of sports across vast regions.. The increased coverage of sports events by newspaper and radio, sports began to consume a larger percentage of people's free time. During the 19th century, popular sports in England underwent its own revolution and became an INDUSTRY in its own right.

On Industry

Industry has a key role to play in achieving the goals of sustainable development; as a source of job creation and fostering active participation in community and national life.  Industry is often dependent on the use of capital (money) for equipment, and or labor, and risk-taking with its accompanying competition and profits. Individual investors and the spirit of entrepreneurship play a vital part in the establishment of an(y) Industry as natural resources (sporting talent),labor (players) and capital do not come together automatically. Interestingly, organized sports and its diffusion into the Caribbean were never accompanied by the culture of industry and/or application of economics in ‘mass based’ sports in the Caribbean and set the stage for the exclusion of Blacks from the realm of power and decision-making.

Individual and Team Sport

Individual sport is perhaps the oldest and most popular form of sport. These include swimming, bowling, archery, boxing, etc. Team sport requires and reflects a higher level of organization and collective discipline that a group must achieve in order to arrive at a similar conclusion/goal.

Amateur Sport

Amateur sport has rules and standards that must be followed in order to maintain amateur status. Amateurs ought not to receive pay for performing though many receive money for personal expenses incurred. Amateurism may be considered to be about doing things for the love of them, doing them without reward or material gain, or doing them unprofessionally'. Interestingly, sport is governed by an ‘unwritten creed’ (placing emphasis on fair-play, team-work, sportsmanship, etc.) providing the lens through which questions related to equal rights, justice, domination, resistance, etc. can be examined.

Professional Sport developed when men decided to make business or 'financial profit' from popular games/sport. The origins of professional sports can be traced back to the 12th century after the English Knights returned from the Crusades with Arab horses. These horses were bred with English horses to produce the Thoroughbred horse that is used in horse racing in the UK today. Professional sport developed when men decided to make business or ‘financial profit’ from popular games. Professional foot racing or pedestrianism has its origins in the mid-eighteenth century when English public schools and the wider community were becoming very interest in games and sporting pursuits. Substantial wagers often accompanied those activities, with large sums of money being won and lost. Undoubtedly, sporting contests have commercial value.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, developments associated with the Industrial Revolution in Europe facilitated a significant change in sport. Improved means of electricity and transportation- railways and ship- revolutionized the notion of travel and facilitated the spread of sports across vast regions.  Professionalism offered working-class players a route towards social recognition and life-changing opportunities that were denied elsewhere in politics, commerce and higher education. Professionalism offered working-class players a route towards social recognition and life-chance opportunities that were denied elsewhere in politics, commerce and higher education. Professionalism however begins with an ‘attitude’ learnt “off the field” then applied to training and performing/playing. These include attitudes to cleanliness, punctuality, correction, etc.

Sport as Industry

The essential criteria of a successful industry must include […] spectators, business sector, sponsors, and government.  Journalist and former race horse commentator Cliff Williams provides an analysis:

The betting and gaming industry in Jamaicqa has proven to be a successful socioeconomic entity garnering several million dollars to the government coffers ( a significantly meaningful contribution to the GDP of the country) while providing substantial revenue to the players involved in the game  i.e punters, grooms, trainers, owners, government, et al.[4]

Sport as a Cultural Site for Economic Development

Sage (1990) informs us that,

Commercial spectator sport became one of the most engrossing of all social interests. By the 1920s (in the U.S.) it was a bandwagon around which rallied students and alumni, business and transportation interest, advertising and amusement industries, and mass media.

Hargreaves notes,

          Commercial sport creates a market for associated goods and services , so numerous businesses accumulate capital indirectly by providing those goods and services. Examples of this are the sporting goods industry ( mostly manufacturers and retailers,, the sport component of the mass media (including television, newspapers, and magazines), businesses that benefit from sport events (hotels, airlines, restaurants), and advertisers (those buying sport  advertising or sponsoring events).

Industries attendant to sport include : Gambling,  Food and Beverages (alcohol),  Media, Marketing, Advertising,  Manufacturing, Transportation, Accommodation, Tourism, Security, Medical / Insurance, Venue management, Vending, Photography,  Music, etc..

The sports industry thrives in industrialized nations (Britain, France, etc.) and is emerging/making strides in developing nations such as Mexico, Brazil, etc. as the commodification of competitive play continues to produce and sustain a multi-billion dollar global sporting industry. In the Age of Globalization, the terrain of Play Games and organized modern Sports within the Caribbean context require a fresh approach, with a view to examine  their relationship to the social, cultural and economic development of the region.

 

WORKS CITED

Akbar, Na’im  (1996)  Breaking The Chains Of Psychological  Slavery

Caillois, Roger. Man, Play and Games Trans. Meyer Barash New York: The Free Press, 1961

Davis, Donald. The Industrialization of Football: A Cultural Analysis of Jamaica's 1998 World Cup Road To France, Ph.D Thesis 2006, UWI

Hargreaves, John. Sport Power and Culture: A Social and Historial Analysis of Popular Sports in Britain  UK : Polity Press, 1986

Huizinga, Johan.  Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture

Sage, George .  Power and Ideology in American  Sport  

Sir Norman Chester Centre for Football Research

 

 

 

[1] http://odl2.wjit.ie/odl/research/play/section/section-2.htm

[2] L. P. Lieber, “ Seriously Considering Play: Designing interactive learning environments based on the blending of micro worlds, simulations and games.” Educational Technology Research & Development 44.2 (1996): 43-58

[3] Taken from Racism and Football Fact Sheet 6 in Sir Norman  Chester Centre for Football Research, University of

[4] “ A View from a Cliff,” The Star 24 Sept. 2004:15

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