World Cup mania is everywhere and Bangladesh is no different. One fact stands out here is that although the game has virtually died in Bangladesh, every four years it is revived in full glory. And when it revives, its always a rivalry between two nations Brazil and Argentina. And the passion is no less then it would have been had Bangladesh been playing. Or the supporters had been citizens of those two countries. It’s great to see it all but what does all that “nationalistic” fervour mean for a land far away?
Sports nationalism is actually a rather emerging but robust subject of global sociology particularly in today’s world of instant communication. Most research is on nationalism and sports for countries with national teams but globalization has also produced non-resident nationalism, it seems. If the country is not good enough to be at the international level, one can always ‘migrate, now common in South Asia in general.
Using survey data from 25 countries, Prof. Ornulf Seippel writes in the International journal of Sociology that “Western Europe has a lower level of sport nationalism while some less developed countries and Eastern Europe have higher levels.” Age, religion, income, etc show a positive correlation with high sports nationalism, whereas education has a negative correlation. “More democratic, prosperous, and globalized countries are the least sport nationalistic.” Higher the education, he finds, less is the passion. It seems lack of prosperity and sports passion comes together.
It seems the same factors apply to passionate club loyalties. Going by class and community identity of followers, who support clubs fanatically and even participate in violence, the link with them coming from the lower economic rungs of society is definite.
“the gap between private and public worlds was also bridged by sport” said Eric Hobsbawm in 1992. “Sociologically, the challenge is to establish how narratives on nationality are produced in an endless and continuous stream of reminders (“flaggings”) of who we are as inhabitants of our countries are.”
Sports produces identities which we know though often deny. We know how Mohammedan Sporting Club, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan in India were para- political outfits as are post 1971 club Abahani in Dhaka. But how does a people’s passionate identity with an another nation fit in with the concept of sports nationalism. Why is it so intense in South Asia. Is it putting on a question mark on the success of the state system of the region in general?
The “doosra desh” syndrome
Indian TV advertisements openly say this is about the “doosra’ country syndrome legitimizing the phenomenon to help sell goods. Thus, when one‘s own country is not playing, another country become the alternate desh. And if so, do they display the same passion as a person does for one’s own.
Most studies of sports nationalism have never explored such secondary identities so the answers are few. But the NR Bangladeshi/ Indian /Pakistani identities are good spaces to begin with. The age of one common identity for all is over. Some will hold dual identities and the compulsion comes from many sources.
In fact everyone will support a team or other and that is universal but how intense and passionate and fanatical that support is, is where this new nationalism begins. What motivates people to abuse and physically battle each other in the name of a country which they have never seen while living in one’s own?
Flags: The inclusion of exclusion?
The reasons can’t be one but several factors could be responsible. In Bangladesh, the state is weak but some institutions are where universal entry is missing. The sense of loyalty is not questioned but the sense of belonging is another matter. There are many reasons for unhappiness with national identity but one that is important is the lack of opportunity for participation. That is exclusively reserved for various elite and loyalists.
Nor is Bangladesh a successful country unless one is an elite or a loyalist hence the exclusion process is ongoing for most which creates a gap between the citizens and the state.
Finally, such non-resident nationalism is an escape from the reality many face but don’t enjoy. It briefly allows supporters to be part of a success and provides an identity that is so far away from them that it can’t be challenged. Supprting a foreign team means loyalty to a “mental state”, defending which people are ready to go to battle for the flag.
The holding aloft of the Pakistani flag created a great commotion which led to a ban of the exclusive display of a foreign flag. That hardly matters as people know how to remain safe so flags are out, slogans are being screamed and FB is full of supporter groups. Of course all this is innocent.
But though some pick up another national flag out of anger most pick it up without knowing that somewhere the heart wants some inclusion, some participation, some belonging to the state in which they live. A state which is fundamentally for the few will always produce many who will ask if another/second flag can be held aloft without giving up the first.
Bangladesh’s Asia Cup victory and euphoria just before the World cup madness should cause a little pondering about a city full of foreign flags flying high.