Sports, Bodies, Identities. A Keynote

Roberto Cipriani

Sports, Bodies, Identities. A Keynote

by Roberto Cipriani (University of Rome 3)


The typical characteristics of the play theorized by Roger Caillois (1991) involve body [Blacking 1977; Defrance 1978; Featherstone, Hepworth, Turner 1991; Frank 1991; Polhemus 1978; Schilling 1993; Turner 1984] and identity [Donnelly 2008; Donnelly Young 1988; Dubar 1996; Hill, Williams 1996; King 2004; Remotti 1996; Stevenson 2007].

As a matter of fact such link is verified both in the competition meant as agon, and in the hazard as alea, as well as in the imageas mimicry, as well as in the vertigo as ilinx. Therefore the character of competition is present in many sports, both team sports and individual ones, while hazard is based on the relation between the expectation and the given answer (as in the case of the clay pigeon shooting), imitation can be found in the synchronized swimming, risk can finally be found [Baudry 1991] in alpinism (where vertigo is the main feeling while hiking, as well as the astonishment is due both to the thin air of high altitude and to the effects of sense perceptions in a indefinite and almost untouched space, where only a few bodies can arrive).

Body gets ready for sports 

In ancient times, from Paul of Tarsus (I century a. C.) to Jean Cassien (IV-V century a. C.), the relation between body and sport was well known and also practised. Particularly, the body had to be well prepared in order to have a good performance in sports: «Listen to what said by the apostle‘Anyone who takes part to a competition has to face all kind of deprivations’ (1 Cor 9, 25). If we understand, in a wide sense, about what kind of deprivations he is talking, we might be able to adapt a material behaviour to the spiritual struggle. In fact, those who start such sort of spectacular struggles, according to some given rules, are not allowed to eat all they may desire, but they can only eat the food of the day fixed by the rules. However, to keep off from non-contemplated food, as well as from drunkenness and any kind of excesses, these are not the only rules to observe. Also laziness, idleness, and inactivity have to be banned with the aim of raising the personal value with daily exercises and a continuous concentration. In this way, they avoid all kind of worries, sadness and secular problems, as well as family affections and conjugal duties, in order to be at complete disposal of discipline exercises, without any implication with material life (cf. 2 Tm2, 4): they assume they can receive all daily necessities by those who preside agones, the crown of glory and the prices convenient to their victory. They preserve themselves from any carnal relationship, so that while preparing to the competition, fearing that during the sleep, due to imagination of dreams, they might lose the energy accumulated in a long time, they cover both sides with lead foils so that the cold metal, applied to the groin, prevent the flow of impure humours. Otherwise, they would be destined to defeat, thus losing any possibility to carry their mission until the end, if the fake image of a harmful pleasure would damage the safety preserved by abstinence» [Cassiano 2007: 191-192].

These words, which are the example of Christian conception aiming at controlling also uncontrollable night-time pollutions, underline the close relation between physical training and athletic contest, between personal commitment and the possible outcome of the competition. Furthermore, they recalls the vexata quaestio of the difference between the self of the subject and the objectivity of the body, which is also the identification of human beings. To this issue, another one may be added: possession of one’s own body. How can man and woman feel the body as their own? Is it the same to say that I am a body or that I have a body? Therefore, if I am my own body my identification cannot be denied, and it also means that I am completely responsible for it. However, if I say that I have a body, the self creates quite a distance between me and my body, it becomes other than me, therefore, not always subjected to my own will. “From here, the origin of the dualistic conception of having or being is easily perceived: the self has a body, but is not a body. However, the self is not a body even when the statement is that the self is inside a body, in one’s own body. In this case, the self and the body are meant as two parts, two different parts of one self, comprehending the self, on one side, as a partial self and, on the other hand, to comprehend one’s body as another part which cannot be linked to the partial self. Therefore, the sentence: I have a body, doubles the meaning of the self into one self which is complete, comprehending both the self and the body, and another self which is only one part of it, that one can say to be possessed, owned, by the comprehensive and complete self, as if it is possessed by that part that we define body” [Molinaro 2008: 10]. Such issues are very relevant and imply the close relations between body, identity and sport. At this regard, we may refer to the metaphor of archery,where thearc would be the body itself which is being pulled and, thanks to the tension of the rope that unifies and closes (forming a sort of circular identity), is afterwards agonistically tighten to the maximum possible strength, in order to launch the arrow (symbol of sport) which will reach the goal, the aim, a certain number of points.

Body as identity

One may say that in the beginning was the body, and the body became identity and started living among sports [Magnane 1964; Ohl 2006; Parlebas 1986]. Such paraphrase renders the sense [Synnot, Howes 1992] of the relation between sport and identity, between sport and body [Bancel, Gayman 2002; Nunziata 2008], between identity and body [Salisci 2008: 150-153]. Obviously, the starting point is always the body [Bromberger, Duret, Kaufmann, Le Breton, de Singly, Vigarello 2005; Le Breton 1990; 1993], without which any kind of identification would never be possible: in everyday language we speak in terms of body identification, which means that the body belongs to somebody, whose registered identity is unique.  However, other forms of identity, or identification, are possible and feasible as in sports. In comparison with previous times, there have been also significant changes, recently. If the sportive social actor was recognizable by a number written on the back and/or in front of the t-shirt, as well as on the bicycle or on the motorcycle, or even on the canoe, recently is more frequent to write (highly visible) the surname or the nickname (an emphasized form of identity considered as extraordinary).

Such a change, even if it seems to reduce the collective importance of a team play by privileging and exalting the individual dimension, it actually underlines the responsibility of the single for good results in a team performance. Neither can be neglected the creation (and diffusion) of identity flux nor the consequent identification between a leading sportsman (as individual or team) and the fans, the followers that express their affection and devotion [Jamet 1991], their belonging [Poli 2005, Porro 2008: 76-79], through a wide number of modalities: from wearing a shirt of the same colour (with the name written on it) to painting some parts of the body (especially face and hands) with the same chromatic characteristics of the reference subject.

The process of identification [Robinson 2008: 318] implies a somatic similarity [Schlanger 1995], in a certain way. This is the reason for following the athlete or the team in every moment, as far as possible, from training to away matches, playing time (of not foreseeable results) to everyday life (repetitive).

One of the aims of this following is the possibility to touch, personally and directly, one’s own object-subject of devotion, relation, and psycho-sociological transfert. The search for a signature (an original and identifying sign), possibly with a dedication (identity link between signer and receiver), or having a piece of cloth (that indicates the possibility to have a skin contact with the other), would become a strengthening factor of identity process, in order to find a real and visible implementation. There is also a sort of symbolic equipment that accompanies every sport event as interaction experience [Goffman 1961; 1967], involving supporters as well as athletes, who look for a sustain (therefore a sort of identification) in all fans that face any kind of sacrifices to follow their champions (sacrifices are not only economical, but also physical ones: think about the number of hours spent travelling to be in other cities for the competitions).

The existence of an efficient symbolism shows the real dynamics of identification processes, according to the meaning itself of the term symbol, whose origins are rooted in the verb συμβάλλω (sumbállo) that in ancient Greek language means “to put together”, “to combine”. In order to understand the sense of this action of “putting together”, of “relating”, the best thing is to remember the vote procedure, of Greek origins, practised in the agora, in the public assembly (reserved to male citizens). In order to recognize the right to vote, there was a simple procedure by fragments of crushed objects made of clay (such as vases). It is well known that the breaking lines of a clay object are quite different from each other, therefore a “putting together” can succeed only when the fragments combine perfectly re-composing the original shape. Only if the different pieces put together reproduce the original object as it was before the breaking, one part combines with another. In such way, the right to vote in the agora could be exerted only verifying the possibility of connection between the two fragments used for the procedure. At last, such “putting together”, “combining”, allow the identification and then the symbol is a form of identity, and a legitimization of the process of identification.


According to what said previously, the role of the symbol is a relevant one for identification, to identify a team, the belonging dynamics between athletes and their fans. Symbols are the ground of struggles for different belongings. An emblematic case can be the relation with the team flag or with the coat of arms representing it. They both have a privileged position and are worshipped as sacred objects [Amara 2008], they are preserved with care and never left unattended so to avoid eventual damages and inappropriate uses. Prices received are fixed on both symbols in order to raise their symbolic value, and identity drive. Neither should we neglect the case of a single individual who reaches a certain prestige and esteem so to be considered as a symbolic “flag” standing for the entire team, and for all accompanying, sustaining, and referring to it.

As a matter of fact, the symbol stands for all, which means the entire sport group. In this back and forth from representing symbols and represented people is played the most of psycho-sociological interaction implemented by sport activity, which may become the representing image of a city, a population, an area, an ethnic group, a common character or a social class [Pociello 1995].

Bounds between a single athlete, active in competitions, and the organizational and supportive team can be very strong. Seldom an athlete, a president, a trainer, a coach, a masseur can stop a frequentation lasted for years. To leave, abandon, change team is a real betray. The symbol-subjects are not keen on changing their environment, their city or their affiliation. Neither economical proposals can change this reality because symbol-subject prefers to receive a lesser reward but remains the point de repère of an entire sport reality. The relation created is quite deep. And, even if, for some reasons, one should be obliged to change team, when facing the original team of belonging, the professional role would ask for a fairly correct behaviour, but also to keep an eye on the past and, in case of victory, not to show an open happiness. There is a profound, unconscious belonging, like a metaphorical umbilical chord, which conduces always back to the origins. On the other hand, the athlete is well aware of the fact that he has lost his background (built up with sacrifices and hard work) and that in the new position he has to prepare the ground in order to reach, possibly, the success he had in the previous, original environment.

Usually, there is no interruption between the individual and its community, between the athlete and his group. Imitation tendency produces other kind of effects: emulation, but also extreme faithfulness. When a referee or a judge intervenes to sanction a member of the team, the others feel almost obliged to rebel. Each sanction is a damage for the whole team. Therefore, the aim is not only to preserve their team mate from unfavourable decisions, but also to avoid difficulties for the group, such as the possibility of jeopardizing important collaborations.

Also in the case of doping [Brissonneau, Aubel, Ohl 2008] the impact factor of imitation has to be seriously considered. If a leader, somebody with a good influence, heard and followed by the others, decides to keep a deviant, non legitimated behaviour, there is a good chance that the rest of the group will follow him. That is the reason why the net of identity bonds has to be considered as an independent variable, which determines behaviours and attitudes in many subjects, referring to a more or less charismatic leader, who is often the symbol of a team.

Signs of an identity belonging

In some cases, athletes have on their own body the signs of their previous affiliation, such as tattoos, for example, [Atkinson 2003; Caplan 2000; De Mello 2000; Featherstone 1999; Nunziata 2008; Steiner 1990; Tannenbaum 1987] thus rendering more visible the identity relation with a team or a club. A tattoo is not easily deleted, as well as the past of the person who holds it cannot be deleted. The fashion of tattoos recently widespread recalls the previous experiences of the subject, either sentimental or sport experiences, or both experiences together in a symbiotic relation. Deciding for carrying an indelible sign on oneself implies a deep motivation, a long-lasting reason. A tattoo is forever, or at least can last as long as the body. Only death will start a process of decomposition, implying a separation from symbols, affiliations, as well as from the body itself were the tattoo has been written. In other words, the tattoo is a quite definitive choice. When an athlete or a team supporter decides to have either his team name, or preferred rugby or football athlete tattooed, he knows the consequences of such action. This solution and experience have undeniable similarities with other phenomena, like religious ones. Stigmata are, for example, a more cruel kind of tattoo, a sort of print sui generis of the “image” of a superior entity. St. Francis and Padre Pio da Pietrelcina, within Catholic area, are two emblematic cases of identification with Christ, whose signs of passions are carried by them in the same way: the suffering of Christ, the son of God embodied in a man, physically assuming the shape of humans in order to represent them. Such relation has a double orientation: from divine into human as well as from human into divine. Identity transition similarly occurs [Barba 2007: 81-105] between an athlete and his group of sport activity, between a supporter and his champion, between a trainer and his group of training [Vigarello 2004]. However, the contrary happens as well, because the relation can also be lived in the other direction: between the team and the star player, between the staff and the trainer (whose body, in case of victory is exposed and carried by the athletes as a symbol of the maximum convergence between sport [Coakley, Dunning 2000], body [Cortine, Courbin, Vigarello 2005-2006], and identity [Crossley 2001; Stevenson 2002]).

The contact of bodies becomes necessary and is visibly ritualized and showed by the theatrical hug received when one of the team realizes a point, a score or a goal. The orgiastic [Maffesoli 1985] pile formed after a goal reveals a participation, a shared situation that is more than just a physical expression [Ulman 1993], and holds a symbolic meaning that eliminates all differences, of role or character, melted in one group profile, where is hard to distinguish bodies, arms, legs and heads. All these are parts of a puzzle representing a unique moment of shared happiness: everyone is the piece of a mosaic that can be seen as the overall image, a kind of photographic shot that vehicles the idea of all for one and one for all. This message holds such a strong, involving sense of togetherness that can become a value for many generations. In some cases, this image becomes a real monument, as documented by the well known (and controversial) image of American soldiers leaning upon one another and holding high the American flag on Iwo Jima, in a unique image representing the bodies of soldiers and the symbol of confederation.

Means for identification

As a matter of fact the flag carried by fans is the symbol which unifies [Bairner 2003; Henry 2008] and moves, develops belonging feelings, and strengthen the team perception. Some people wear the flag as a suit [Giorcelli 2008]. There are also other kinds of solutions adopted by athletes and fans in order to underline their common aim: from designing the shape of a unique body (for example to hold their hands in the centre of a circle) to the well known gesture of “give me five” which, combining the five fingers of two athletes, recalls directly the concept of “combining”, “putting together”, remembering the already expressed procedure in use in the Greek agora, in which the right to vote was recognized by bringing two pieces near to each other to reshape the broken object, and more or less the same when two different hands are brought together in “give me five”.

Other formulas that can unify are based on dresses: either playing or training dresses as well as travelling or leisure ones. Sharing symbols as types of dresses is pervasive and performing, in the sense that transforms each single individual in something that at least on a material level appears to be different from the others that do not belong to the same contest. Therefore not only athletes wear the same clothing, but also presidents, and the staff in general. There are overalls that underline the intent to maintain, keep, preserve, safeguard, and assure the collective adhesion. Usually the body is dressed, therefore dresses [Steiner 1990] are as well a support in order to exhibit the belonging, which otherwise would not be recognizable from the others. That is why, not only the playsuit, wore in times of agonistic practice, but also the dresses wore during the day, recall colours and style of the team of belonging. At least, also a small coat of arms on the jacket or hat can perform a membership.

Besides every day dresses, overalls show identity belonging through their odds contrasts of colours. In the past overalls were worn only for training time. Now they are used also during leisure time, while staying in the hotel, in the room, or at the restaurant. Affiliation has to be constantly kept in mind. This way all athletes would feel directly implied in rendering homage to their own team. As a matter of fact, representative dresses and overalls cover and protect the bodies of athletes, but they also keep alive the feeling of belonging to their community. Just like orchestra components, which are all dressed alike, athletes feel close to each other, also owing to a simple dress that, being a uniform, represents them as being part of an ensemble. Uniformity in respect to somebody or something is reached as in religious matters, such as stigmata, for example, where the identification between the mystic and his reference figure (just think about the famous text Imitation of Christ by Thomas of Kemp) is so strong to impress the same sores of Christ in his followers. Therefore, if Saint Francis becomes alter Christus, also an athlete can be totally devoted to his team to represent it, simply because he is the point of reference, and the key symbol of a whole team.

However, also another element has to be considered: identity is a manifestation of the self, which is perceived and experimented thanks to the mediation of other people, existing independently from the self. Therefore, the self presupposes others, and both can recognise their existence thanks to this contraposition. That is why identity cannot be considered as an autonomous reality, but it needs to reflect into something else. Partnership of others is necessary in order to start the identification process. In sports such identification is possible on the basis of a diverse belonging that allows competition. Therefore, strengthening identity belonging before each game through playing and singing national anthems or with gestures, and shouts, can be either an encouraging rite emphasizing the faith in victory and good luck. Sport communities are keen on underlining again and again their identity, in order to render it visible and create a sort of map of their position, suited on them with a consideration of others as obstacles on the way of success. Of course, such an impatient behaviour to reach the goal implies also a certain rush in depicting other’s profile, thus neglecting the fact that also other people have the same anxiety, which prevents from having an adequate knowledge of the antagonist.

In such picture, sport as well as play [Vigarello 2002] seems to be a form of sociality, or, even better, a form of Simmel’s concept of sociability [1971: 127-140], defined as “a playing form of socialization”. According to this socialization many symbolic exchange are possible, through interaction activated by social actors keen on a mutual entertainment, on the basis of a common belonging and diversification, of role playing, of exchanging persons, places and time. In particular Simmel’s concept of sociability, according to Loy and Oakley [2007: 4647], is based on reciprocal interaction: while in everyday life obstacles appear even if the actors do not have resources to overcome them, in sport the means to face the barriers artificially created are supplied. Moreover, the participants of a sport game are intentionally rendered impersonal through masks and costumes, thus reducing personal involvement. In the competition the group collaboration is necessary, reducing personal needs. At last, all participants are considered on the same level, without differences of class or of any other kind, with a democratic spirit.

The athlete expresses, explains, and builds himself up through his own particular language: playing with rules, sometimes respecting them, sometimes breaking them. In this play the athlete tries to represent his life, aiming at a keeping the past in order to construct a different future. Therefore, through sport the self and the body can manifest their Dasein (being) in present time, in a perspective originating from Heidegger’s thought [1927].

Sociability becomes social openness especially in plays and in sports, but it can also become an aggressive attitude, therefore sociability and aggressive attitude seem to be part of the same play. However, the final result of such a play is undetermined, because of its unpredictable, risky side. The play changes from being a mean into becoming a final aim, to say sport, which is not a separate area of reality, but it fully belongs to it. The dynamic process is unpredictable because there are some rules to be respected, and to be evaluated by referees, umpires, and judges. In other words, while playing within the rules there is also a light struggle with them. And somebody can make fun of them. However, the result of all that depends also on how the other plays, if he respects the rules, how he reacts to the challenges he has to face.

For some aspects, play and sport move between continuous innovation and constant contraposition. Therefore, also if the rule is necessary, the player is usually eccentric toward any rule. From such dynamics depend upheavals during plays, hesitation, and unpredictable performance of athletes. Most of the confrontational play originates from the move of the other, in a basketball play or in a bicycle competition, where the combination of various factors continuously produces unusual situations. A certain superficial lightness could be misleading: it hides a deep rooted competition aim, ready to grasp the right moment to win, to get the final catch.

The body and its changes

Until recently, the idea was that sport could be played by some types of bodies, thus excluding too thin bodies or too fat or even handicapped. Nowadays, a body considered “different” from normality can face, on different levels, all kinds of sport activity, thanks to supports studied in order to facilitate competitions among similar “different” people, or even to participate on the same level in competitions among normal athletes.

The experience of Olympics for “differently able” athletes is certainly a conquered new frontier, even if such event is still a marginal (and emarginated) one in respect to Olympics. However, sport results and competitions are of the same quality level and value. If we consider the initial situation, in some cases the performance is highly superior, in terms of technique and sport, than that of so called “regular” athletes.

The real problem is mainly a cultural one, due to a lack of attention towards handicapped, or subjects with difficulties for some reason (either physical or psychical). As a matter of fact, handicapped is not the right term, “different” would be better, with a different form, a different ability, a different aspect but certainly comparable with “normal” ones. In other words, if the colour of the eyes, hair and skin is not a problem (even if racism [Barba 2007: 81-105] is still present also in sports), the same could happen in a cultural contest otherwise disposed, towards subjects with body diversities. Probably, some sport events are the most favourable and recurring occasions to pull down certain physical and cultural barriers. Sport performances are open, such as marathons or half-marathons; there is enough space for everybody, anyway, through a sort of sport citizenship, that becomes a sort of realized utopia, because everybody has the possibility to express himself, without previous distinctions (apart from some basic rules necessary for participants safeguard).

A so called modified body can be suitable for sport. On this point many prejudices have been overcome. However, there are still some resistances due to image reasons. Wouldn’t be as positive and of image impact to clearly show the potentiality of everybody to live sport, to express oneself through the body, to compare with the others, to verify personal potentialities?

Another issue regards bodiesmodified ad hoc in order to perform at extraordinary levels, raising ethical and behavioural considerations. What are the allowed limits for modifying one’s body in order to reach one’s goal? To strengthen a muscle is different from “pump” it with harmful substances. As well as following a balanced diet is different from changing one’s physical characteristics (not only) to reach a sport success. On a mere esthetical level, a “reduced” body, constraint, tied up, can transform into something completely different from its original form. Therefore, the body and the person are all-in-one, and to consider one without the other means to separate them, as happens between blood and arteries, with undesirable results.

Also in this case, balancing can avoid lethal consequences. Practicing some of the so-called extreme sports, for example, can have characteristics that risk destroying typical actor’s identity.

Gender of the body

A particularly significant identity is gender identity [Armour, Kirk 2008: 269-270; Kay, Jeans 2008: 146-148]. The distinction between male and female sport is quite accepted and cannot be abolished. However, some considerations can be proposed. Male performances show a clear attitude of men for reaching better results, if measured and compared with women results. Nonetheless, some results obtained by women are far better than some obtained by men. This would mean that not always male performances are better than female ones. Besides, one should consider the cultural factor, not a secondary one, that a wider part of men have been practicing sport long time before women did [Mewett 2003: 331-332], also due to cultural, and religious reasons.

If the ground is wider, there are more probabilities of emerging individuals of high quality performances. That’s not a matter of denying the characteristics that facilitate men performances, but may be that with a change of cultural, and religious habits an innovative trend is likely to be registered.

However, in recent years, measurement intervals (time, height, length, strength, weight, duration, etc.) have reduced, so that the gap between male and female records is less consistent. If we analyze the situation of team sports, there is no comparing. Probably a male volleyball team can win against a female team. Not all male volleyball teams are destined eo ipso to prevail on female ones. As an experiment, would be interesting to verify, in the long term, the tendency of the game in mixed teams, half male and half females, or also with male or females turning in the team according to the strategic needs or the qualities of every single athlete. Something similar has occurred already, at least among trainers and technicians: there are women who train male teams (the other way round is already a reality since a long time). Also among game judges or referees gender difference is no more remarked as before. Therefore, the way is open and the future will bring important news.

Stadium and seat as identity factors

As far as identity factors are concerned, a tendency is gaining way, especially by more rich clubs, to dispose as private owner of the structure where the games are played “at home”. Talking about home means to refer to a very cared place, as the family. That is why societies aspire to build or buy stadiums [Houliha 2008: 40-46], gymnasiums, in other words places of their daily sport practice, that assume an official character through the meeting with the counter team, but also with its own public. An alliance pact is renovated, a solidarity resisting to all sport defeat, a long lasting covenant that is destined to become a form of intra-family socialization that represents the intergenerational faith. Such faith cannot be easily damaged because it is initiated, and consolidated in a decisive moment of individual experience of life.

As a consequence, to dispose of a owned stadium as one’s own house is a factor that can support the choice that the sport-fan has taken at a certain stage of his life, probably due to a particularly influent family member. Therefore, going to the stadium is like going home. And to go there with one or more members of the family becomes an occasion of unity and membership, that consolidates either sport, and familiar belonging.

Also the seat of a team should not be neglected (in Rome, until a few years ago, the building of the seat of the local football team, Sport Association Roma, was indicated with ambiguity and irony, as the Holy See). Therefore, the seat of a sport team is object of interest, and affection, because the team meets there in the free time from training and games, and athletes and fan socialize in a sort of inter-personal transformation that allows a distinction of roles with an easiness that cannot be found elsewhere. The familiarity reached allows athletes and fans to have direct confrontations, either in sport situation or not, such as a billiard game or a table sport play.

Such close “face to face” relation can improve reciprocal knowledge and put the bases for a complicity given for granted, in the common interest of the identity and belonging team.

Sponsor and identity 

The same type of binding implies the sponsorship that commercializes, and cures the public image of an athlete, to invest on the image of his famous face or his sport ability and on his public function. The athlete implied in this operation is invested of a high responsibility, because such operation commercializes the reliability and credit, gained in competitions, directly in the area of consumer goods. Most of commercial effectiveness depends on the clothing of every single preferred athlete. Every phrase, every behaviour, either right or wrong, of the preferred athlete can have an influence on selling an object, on the credibility of a firm, on the reliability of a sale communication. The choice of a “wrong” champion, who does not confirm his full, loyal and good sport attitude also outside the game field, can have unpredictable consequences in terms of economical damage for a certain business, for the distribution of a product, for the desirability of a brand. Brands are usually visible on athlete shirts, as prove for the link with the sponsor clearly visible everywhere on the game field, in television images, on newspapers, and reviews. All occasions are right to show the surrounding area full of sponsors: the exalted moments after a goal or a basket or a score or even a less desirable situation like a warning or an expulsion. However, the name of the sponsor is closely related to that of the athlete, who wears clothes with his own name clearly exposed as well as the sponsor’s representative image. Also in this matter there is a total symbiosis: the athlete represents not only himself, but the entire team, a brand, his fans, the city of his team, the values related to the sport history of his club. Right or not, the identity of an athlete goes far beyond his person.


As a result of what has been said before, the symbolic interactionism of Herbert Blumer [Blumer 1969] still represents one of the more efficient theoretical-methodological solutions for the sociology of sport. Sport is largely constellated with symbols, meanings, interpersonal relations that are openly expressed in the actions of sport social actors. Such actions have a meaning, create interactive relations and interpret or modify all body positions, as well as hands gestures and many varieties of language forms. As a matter of fact, in terms of symbolic interactionism the process (presupposing continuity) is very important, as well as emergency (referring to emerging of various and unpredictable events), and agency (that is to say the human ability of acting with awareness, being constructive, transformative, and oriented to a correct managing of the self, and outside contest), the existence of given conditions (to which one may adapt or manage to change), the dialectic (that goes far beyond the classical dichotomy of body and mind, reason and emotion). Therefore: process, emergency, agency, constructed condition and dialectics are the five elements that characterize symbolic interactionism, and that are apparently very useful in the sociological study of sport, because such elements are capable of detecting what is relevant in sport activities.

From a methodological point of view, more recent developments offer new facilities, especially for qualitative analysis, according to the variations of ethnography, in collecting in depth interviews as well as life histories. Laboratory experiments are no longer useful, social reality is now considered an excellent laboratory without technical problem of investigation. Also visual sociology is experiencing relevant progresses. At last, also for document analysis, either texts or images, there are refined software. Among these, NVivo has to be highlighted for its previous success, and for the new version implemented with the possibility of handling and analysing images. Nvivo 8 is the new release of a software produced by QSR International, and originally thought to develop Grounded Theory by Glaser and Strauss [1967]. According to Grounded Theory approach, hypotheses have not to be postulated before the research project, theories are instead constructed from empirical data. Therefore, this kind of research is at first open, as a second step it follows an axial logic (based on correlations), and last step is selective. However, the intersection between quantitative approaches and qualitative ones is destined to give better results than classical procedures (examples can be found in Brenda Farnell [2004: 30-55] and Pauline Turner Strong [2004: 79-87] on the racial use of sport mascots).

In the attempt of imagining the future developments of sport sociology, Peter Donnelly [2008: 27] mentions at first: “the globalization of sport, including its relationship to local, and regional sport practices, and to issues of identity”. Therefore, the theme of identity seems to be a strategic one in the years to come, as a clear consequence of globalization processes, and the related attempts of resistance [Scott 1990] or resilience at a local level.


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