Seghir Lazri works on the theme of social vulnerability of athletes. In this column, he takes a few pictures of sport through the social sciences. How the social explains sport, and vice versa.
Without a real major media event, like the Olympic Games or the Men’s Football World Cup, the year 2019 was not only rich in sport, but also socially. In a world where inequalities between the sexes, communities are still present, where political and democratic tensions in certain countries are still current, sports facts have known in their essence to account for certain situations and problems, but also to propose food for thought to get out of certain crises. Here are some facts, subjectively chosen, but no less significant.
The figure: the football player
The major event of the sporting year in France, the Women’s World Cup in football had a strong impact on society in June. Historical audience scores, incredible promotion and unfortunately also inappropriate and reactionary comments in certain media and on the Internet marked this competition. Nevertheless, the figure of the footballer emerged victorious from this event. From the political and social declarations of the star Megan Rapinoe to the strikes of players, passing by the refusal to participate of the Norwegian Ada Hegerberg (the 2018 Golden Ball considers that the working conditions in selection are less good than those of men), the footballer has become this new social agent, through the prism of a sporting reality and a social condition, which through the audience of sports spectacle invested this space with a political dimension. Because, as the researcher Béatrice Barbusse recalled in the columns of Release, World Cup 2019 “Will remain as a feminist” in the sense that it has made it possible to give more visibility to issues of gender inequality. The “Equal pay” chanted by the crowd during matches shows all the more that sport is an incredible vector for social awareness where actors, and especially actresses, can also have an important role to play.
The subject: the Decathlon running hijab
If the subject of the Islamic veil had invaded the school and educational sphere for several years, the controversy concerning the marketing by Decathlon of a racing hijab introduced this theme with force in the field of sport in France. Indeed, the virulent positions taken on this “affair” show once again that sport is not impervious to societal problems, but above all that the sport question always remains a tool available to political forces to assert their ideals. At a time when part of the population goes to the streets to protest against Islamophobia, while another castigates a group by making it responsible for all the evils of society (as some elected officials can do in this period of strike), it is undoubtedly judicious to renew with the work of the researchers who for more than twenty years worked on these questions, in particular in Arab-Muslim countries. For example, researcher Monia Lachheb invites us to think of wearing the veil in sports, not as a form of assignment to a religious movement, but as a negotiation between two different social and moral domains. If the use of the veil in sport sometimes marks a gap with sporting standards (exposure of the body), it is also the expression “A margin of autonomy in the exercise of the faith”. This shows us once again that the social sciences can bring an intellectual clarity concerning certain questions, far from the ambient fallacies.
The collective: the supporters
Not a single day of football championship in Europe takes place without mention of insults and discriminating and racist chants which obviously spoil the spectacle and elicit strong reactions from political and political leaders. However, the measures often taken by the authorities and which are part of a political (security, as journalist Nicolas Kssis-Martov) and economic (sanitation of stadiums for commercial purposes, according to researcher Aurélien Delpirou) logic make the impasse on the whole sociology of supporterism developed since the 1980s, which accounts for the strong and singular social bond that exists among supporters. This sum of studies provided and diverse, ranging from the movement ultra analyzed by the sociologist Christian Bromberger, to the remote supporterism highlighted by the researcher Ludovic Lestrelin, illustrates the perpetual mutations of this social fact, which are never really independent of political and social contexts. Therefore can an effective policy of struggle do without all this sociological wealth?
The competition: world athletics
Organized for the first time in Qatar, and beyond the problems linked to human rights, this competition was strongly marked by complications linked to climatic conditions. If sport allows, from a geopolitical point of view, to express a form of economic and social power, the fact remains that in times of strong challenges in the face of global warming, the establishment of infrastructures air-conditioned does not appear as a sign of ecological awareness. This kind of configuration invites us to rethink our model of sporting event and encourages us especially in the years to come, to deconstruct this idea which makes the sporting spectacle the window of a certain idea of progress, after all quite far from sustainable development . Happy new year 2020.