How do we negotiate game logic?
Sport’s psycho-social motivations are built around a variety of game logics. Games are spaces of recreation and leisure; they are places of not-work; they stand outside the immediately functional, productive logics of employment and citizenship. However, they also reflect and reinforce the moral meanings of broader society: the values of energetic commitment; the virtue of developing skill; the challenge of striving to achieve; the rigors of competition; the rewards afforded to effort; the ethics of formal equality of opportunity (the level playing field); the vicissitudes of chance; magnanimity in loss; and in team sports the ethics of collaboration. The virtues of the “sporting spirit” are complement aspirational values in a wide variety of practices in education, work, and civic participation.
Yet the spirit of sport sits in tension with other complex and at times contradictory forces, ostensibly less part of its “true spirit” but which nevertheless at times seem intrinsic to its gaming logic. Is sport ritualized aggression, quasi-military in its formation, and to the extent that it is, is it a catharsis or catalyst sublimating other problems? Are values of competition a necessary and proper reflection of the motivations that drive market societies, or do they represent ‘survival of the fittest’ logic in which a few perennially win at the expense of the many who, game logic dictates, must lose? To what extent does game logic also tempt transgression of rules, from cheating to doping? How do we negotiate racism, sexism, homophobia and denigratory nationalism in sports?
How do we understand the body?
Sport also rests on a range of body logics. One logic is one of health, a counterpoint to work which for the majority of modern people is largely sedentary. Sport is a necessary antidote. Another logic is that of body image, captured visually in the ideal type of the physically fit man or woman. Another logic is body-to-body contact, the strictly delimited violence of contact sports or bodily co-ordination in sports of graceful movement. Another is the subtle or not-so-subtle expression of sexuality in sport.
However, sitting in tension with these idealizations are difficulties and challenges intrinsic to the logic of the sporting body itself. How do we make sports accessible to, and inclusive of, bodies outside of the ideal body type? How do we deal with the tendency to lionize unnatural extremes in the sporting body, and the over-exercise, drugs or assistive technologies which may be used to produce extreme effects? How do we reduce violence in sport and connected with sport? How do we address the perils of the sexualization of sport? How do we negotiate polyvalent sexualities?
How does sport shape aesthetics?
There are multiple aesthetics to sport, too. Sporting activities are driven by stories. The game is an open-ended, participatory narrative. It is a journey in time and space—the race or the match, for instance. Sporting achievements fold into everyday life narratives. Then there is the intrinsic aesthetic of movement, of graceful or impressively forceful bodies in time and space, of being outdoors or in a specially designed indoor spaces. Sport is also driven by ritual: formalised beginnings, stages and ends for participants and the stuff of spectacle and entertainment for viewers. This is the raw material for representation in conversation, media, advertising, and the arts-through discourses, imageries, sounds, and tactile sensations. Sport’s sites of representation are print, television, radio, the internet—indeed any and all media, each with its characteristic forms and all in a state today of radical transformation.
However, sitting in tension with a positive aesthetics are the often crude functionalism of sporting spaces, the rabid commercialization of popular sport, the passivity of the spectacle and limited and differential access to the media for different sports or categories of player.
How is sport organized?
Sports are forms of social organization. They depend upon, and are always supported by, institutional infrastructures and processes of management. Physical facilities are needed. Players need to learn to play. They need times and places to practice, and coaches to lead. These are the pragmatics of doing sport, and doing it well. This is the stuff of sports education, sports medicine and sports management, practiced by and for amateurs as well as professionals.
However, how does organization logic at times lead to excessive commercialism or even exploitation? When it does it become overburdened by bureaucracy? When does leisure become work in a way that perhaps defeats the purpose of sport-as-leisure?
The International Conference on Sport and Society and its companion journal, book series, and online network are places for the systematic examination a relationship in which sport oft-times enhances social life, while at other times it reflects broader social challenges as well as raising challenges unique to sport itself. These are the discussion forums of this knowledge.