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Unveiling the Economic Power Play: Global Capitalism in Competitive Sports

Deciphering the global capitalism present in competitive sports

By Hridya SharmaPublished 2 months ago 10 min read
Unveiling the Economic Power Play: Global Capitalism in Competitive Sports
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Deciphering the global capitalism present in competitive sports

The evolution of the world marked the globalization of the different countries as one global and open market. Globalization in its uproar proved to be instrumental to the rise of a capitalist market. Many people hail global capitalism, the most recent chapter in the centuries-long history of the capitalist economy, as an open and free economic system that unites people from all over the world to promote production innovations, facilitate the exchange of ideas and cultures, boost employment in developing nations, and give consumers access to a wide range of reasonably priced goods.

The global diffusion of modern sport that gathered momentum in the twentieth century involved several networked elements, including transnational communications media and commercial corporations for which sport, especially through the iconic figure of the transnational celebrity sports star, constitutes a universally appealing globally networked cultural form. Association with sports events and sporting figures through global broadcasting, sponsorship, and endorsement arrangements offers commercial corporations unique access to global consumer culture. By delving deeper into sports history and the rise of capitalism as sports became more global, I aim to highlight the hidden presence of capitalism in competitive, worldwide sports in this piece.

The history of sports and its evolution into a global phenomenon

Leading athletes, businessmen with stakes in sports both directly and indirectly, think tanks, and social scientists trying to make sense of the modern world realized the special local attraction and worldwide importance of sport during the 20th century. Sport was referred to as "the most important thing in the world" at the start of the current century, in the context of a comprehensive examination (r1) of the effects connected with the global application of neo-liberal free-market economic policies. The founder and chairman of Nike stated in the last ten years of the 20th century that sport was central to modern culture and that it increasingly constituted "the culture of the world" (r2)

Sport is a hugely popular, globally networked, and economically significant cultural form. As Nelson Mandela allegedly said, it can mobilize people's emotions in every country in an unparalleled way, holding a prominent position in a "deep area of the collective sensibility" (Eco 1987: 160) (Carlin 2003)(R3) This viewpoint was later supported by the UN Secretary-General, who said of football that it is "more universal" than the UN and that few other cultural events can compare to the way that the FIFA World Cup unites the "family of nations and peoples" while "celebrating our common humanity" (Annan 2006).(R4)

Professional sports then developed a closer relationship with the media, particularly with television, business, and the corporate sponsorship space (Smart 2005).

FIFA President Sepp Blatter gave a resounding endorsement to this state of affairs when he said that "what is important is a partnership (R5) between soccer, the economy, and television which benefits all sides" (Anonymous 2006), defending the rise in World Cup sponsorship money. Undoubtedly, the development of a global sports network has been closely linked to the advancement of consumer culture and the pursuit of business interests (Jarvie 2006) (R6)

At the start of the third decade of the twenty-first century, the broader ‘social place’ that sport occupies is experiencing a multiplicity of crises: The COViD-19 pandemic laid bare the grossly unequal distribution of material wealth both within Western advanced capitalist societies and between the ‘developing’ and the ‘developed’ worlds; unrestrained exploitation of both natural resources and labor-power has led to deepened alienation of the working class and unprecedented planetary (R7) ecological emergencies (Harvey, 2020). While the crises disproportionately affect the working class, the dispossessed, and the racially marginalized, they have become opportunities for the transnational capitalist class to profit and consolidate their wealth and control.

Serious global issues, such as the pandemic, wealth disparities, and ecological emergencies, necessitate new approaches to coordinated action and cooperation as well as opportunities to challenge the status quo.

I argue that understanding how structures and systems have shaped the way that sport is managed today is essential, but it's even more important to do so because it forces us to reimagine how sport might be organized in the future—a future that appears increasingly unappealing to a large portion of the global population. The commercialization and the global expansion at which sports are operated are multifaceted. Let's discuss sports in the modern era as intricately interwoven with capitalism in its various facets of operation.

The growth of corporate culture in sports

Modern sports started to spread around the world in the late nineteenth century. A significant "take-off" phase, marked by an increasing frequency of international competitions, tournaments, and tours, occurred between the 1870s and 1920s. As the number of spectators increased, multiple international sports governing bodies were founded (Maguire 1999).(R8) During this time, several first-ever international sporting events were held, which helped to promote global standardization and lessen regional differences in sports. The major events that took place included the inaugural international football and rugby matches. The first cricket test match between Australia and England (1877), the match between Scotland and England (1871) and Glasgow (1872), respectively

The first Wallabies tour of the UK and USA (1908/9) and the first England international football team tour to continental Europe (1908) both took place. Several international sports organizations were also founded, such as the International Amateur Athletic Association (1912), the International Football Association Board (1886), the International Rugby Football Board (1886), and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (1904). During this time, there were many more examples of the rapidly speeding process of sports globalization; however, we now focus on specific developments in tennis and the Olympic Games.

Winter Olympic Games were first held in 1924 in Chamonix, France; however, some "winter events" (ice hockey, figure skating, etc.) were included in the 1920 Summer Games in Antwerp, Belgium. The Winter Games have since been held every four years, except the years during World War II and 1994, when the schedule was altered by an IOC policy decision made in 1986 to enhance financial prospects and lessen the administrative burden on National Olympic Committees.

The last time the Summer Games were held in Barcelona, Spain, and the Winter Games in Albertville, France, was in 1992. The Winter Games, which have fewer participating nations and have remained less popular than the Summer Games, began a separate, four-year cycle in 1994 with the games held in Lillehammer, Norway. Athens 2004 exceeded all expectations in terms of broadcasting, with 3.9 billion viewers of the events on television. The Olympic Games are now considered to be one of the most significant events for commercial corporations looking to promote their brands, which is not surprising given the scope and reach of global television coverage. This is especially true given that consumers tend to associate Olympic sponsors with leadership in their respective product fields (McCall 2004)(R9)

Alongside advancements in air travel and television coverage, a worldwide network of tennis tournaments has grown in several sports, including association football and athletics. In addition, corporate commercial interest in creating a cosmopolitan image for goods and brands through sponsorship of sporting events and contracts for player endorsements awarded to athletes following their success on the field and development of a popular cultural profile has assisted.

Increases in the number of attendees paying to attend events, the establishment of international governing bodies with jurisdiction over international competitions, and a significant increase in media interest—best demonstrated by the emergence of sports magazines, press coverage, and radio broadcasting—all occurred in tandem with developments in this take-off phase of international sporting events, matches, and tournaments. As "falling real prices and rising wages brought an increase in prosperity," a sizable commercial market for sports goods also started to emerge, and advances in athletic equipment and specialty sports apparel drew increasing consumer interest.

Why does capitalism go unnoticed in international sports management?

In the contrasting realm of opinions about the favorable and unfavorable presence of capitalism in sports management, presented by renowned industry practitioners, researchers, and renowned institutions, I draw a parallel on how capitalism influences the being and practice of sport and how it goes unnoticed.

According to capitalist realism, the process of naturalizing capitalism is described as a neutral framework that presents a highly particular and historically constrained set of conditions as universal and unalterable. This creates a significant obstacle to the legitimacy of any ideas that go against and beyond the bounds of capitalism. It appears that a common assumption in modern sports management scholarship is that capitalism is the natural (and only feasible) social order in which the sports industry and its activities are, or should be, situated. As such, it doesn't need to be acknowledged, much less questioned (Newman, 2014) (R10)

However, when it comes to persistent issues and injustices related to race, gender, sexuality, disability, and religion, as well as the difficulties presented by income inequality, war, and ecological degradations, more critical sport management scholars located within advanced capitalist societies of the Global North can hardly ignore capitalism's ramifications. Nevertheless, they may have to "tread carefully" by not explicitly opposing the interests of significant industry stakeholders, let alone "calling out" capitalism. The rise of neoliberalism in the 1970s and 1980s, as academics in other social science fields have noted, led to a "turn away" from serious investigations into social class and capitalism; instead, ideas like "globalization," "diversity," and "postmodernism" became fashionable (Fuchs & Mosco, 2015) (R11

After all, during the McCarthy era, faculty members in the US faced career-threatening consequences if they maintained a scholarly agenda and/or identity that dared to question the legitimacy of capitalism, as management scholars Mills and Hatfield (1999) documented more than two decades ago. The intellectual pursuit of alternative (non-capitalist) forms of organizing economic and social life has suffered a major setback, even though the ideological conflict of the Cold War era appears to have long since passed. Therefore, it makes sense to hypothesize that naming capitalism in sports management is disliked by both powerful and less powerful "stakeholders" who have different stakes in the status quo. It can also hurt the speaker, such as eroding their credibility and possibly alienating them from the academic community..

Capitalism naming is a dangerous business. Some well-meaning voices might advise waiting for a better opportunity later on. This paper makes the opposite claim, looking beyond the narrow scope of the relatively short history of academic work in this area. It willingly assumes the risk of repositioning academic research and intellectual work, including sports management, within the larger context of the protracted fight for justice, emancipation, and collective liberation. As was previously mentioned, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the ghost of capitalism, which challenges us to examine it more closely. By doing so, we can gain insight into the nature, history, purposes, and effects of capitalism that are concealed from the conventions surrounding the creation and dissemination of knowledge about sports management.


With modern sport's global reach, it has lost most of its lighthearted nature, and its professional activity has developed into a major worldwide business as well as a serious media spectacle. Neither natural nor inevitable is capitalism. If the foundational principles of sports are consistently questioned and disregarded, the exponential growth of capitalism is unstoppable


R1)Betts, J. R. (1953) ‘The technological revolution and the rise of sport- Betts/1e05a1781cae41d4dc56e85ecea50efbd96b0fde

R2)The Professionalisation of Modern Sport-

R3)Carlin, J. (2003) ‘Rwanda’s magic moment’, Guardian Unlimited, Sunday 13 July,6903,997414,00.html

R4)Cone, J. (2006) ‘Soccer World Cup final had sport’s largest TV audience of 2006’

R5)The Economic Design of Sporting Contests- Stefan Szymanski-

R6)Sports, culture and society-

R7)- Naming the ghost of capitalism -

R8)Stripes versus Swoosh in the marketing World Cup


R10)Not playing around: Global capitalism, modern sport and consumer culture

R11)Naming the ghost of capitalism -

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About the Creator

Hridya Sharma

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