Sports•deportes•الرياضة•ספורט• sportif •스포츠의•спортивный

Imagine:

An American tourist’s favorite question

You and your family are on a cruise for two-weeks! While most of the cruise stops have been in English-speaking countries, the last stop will be in a foreign country where little to no English is spoken. You and your family will be in this country for 4 hours and have an unlimited amount of money to spend. You are in charge of planning the itinerary for your family. Out of the following activities, which are you most likely to enjoy? (Keep in mind that you and your family are not familiar with the local language):

  1. A highly-acclaimed drama film (spoken in French, with no subtitles)
  2. A guided tour of the town (the tour-guide speaks broken English)
  3. A professional soccer game

I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that you chose answer 3. Why?–because sports are universal. Sports cross all geographic, ethnic, and religious boundaries. It doesn’t matter what language you speak, what background you’re from, or what socio-economic class you’re in; sports are something so universal that it doesn’t matter who you are, you can enjoy and understand sports no matter what.

This past year, I had the privilege of spending a gap year abroad in Israel. I must admit, despite being immersed in the culture for an entire year, I am far from being a fluent Hebrew speaker. Upon returning home to America, my parents were shocked to learn this and asked me how I was not yet fluent. I explained to them that throughout the entire year, I had mostly been with other Americans. I had been with my friends from home, my friends from my program, and other American students throughout the entire year. We almost always went to “touristy” spots, which were designated for English-speaking tourists. I rarely was in a situation in where everyone only spoke Hebrew.

Another question I anticipated my parents asking me was if I got the chance to visit my relatives in Israel. The answer to that question was, “no.” Extremely upset with me, I explained to them matter-of-factly, that it would have been awkward spending dinner with my relatives who I have never met and only speak in Hebrew. Despite their initial disappointment, they knew I was right. They moved on with their interrogation and proceeded to ask me the most timeless of questions, “what was your favorite thing you did?” Finally, an easy question! Without hesitation I replied to them, “the Maccabi Tel Aviv soccer game.”

My best friend, being both Israeli and quite the soccer enthusiast, explained that we just had to “go to a Maccabi game before we left.” After much pestering over the first few months, my friends and I eventually gave in and decided to purchase tickets for a game.

Maccabi Tel Aviv celebrating Israeli championship

December 12th, 2013, we were here. The Maccabi Tel Aviv team was playing the Bordeaux team, not that that had mattered to me at all. I have never been a good athlete or cared much for sports. But, I was here and I decided I might as well get into the game.

To be honest, it was the first, and probably only time that I had felt truly immersed in the culture. It was mid-December, and I know it sounds like a lie, but Israel get’s cold and windy! Here we were, twenty American’s, cheering for the Maccabi team just as loud as the Israeli’s sitting besides us. We were sharing our warm blankets with them and chanting with them as the Maccabi’s scored, and the fact that an entire language separated us, just didn’t matter. The Israeli’s were fervently screaming their chants, and while I may not have known what they meant, I understood their meaning: Win! At last, I had finally felt one with the people.

University of Michigan fans celebrating a victory

Just this past week, my sorority friends and I went to the Michigan vs. Syracuse basketball game. As we were going crazy and screaming for the team, I felt like I was having deja vu. This basketball game felt nearly identical to the soccer game I had attended last year. The excitement, the adrenaline, and the energy felt during any sporting event, remain perpetual. It doesn’t matter if you are in Israel, in America, a sport-enthusiast, or a first-time sport attendee; that nervous feeling you get as you anxiously await for your team to score, is universal. The most universal and widespread language I had come to realize, was sports.

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4 thoughts on “Sports•deportes•الرياضة•ספורט• sportif •스포츠의•спортивный

  1. I really enjoyed reading you post on the universality of sports. The way you introduce this topic is really interesting, as is serves to show just how accessible sports are to all people. Athletic competition truly does have the potential to temporarily eliminate social divide (created by language barriers, differences in political stances etc.). I too had a similar experience with sports when I traveled to another country. In 2009 I took a vacation to Canada and went to a local (not professional) soccer game. While watching, I immediately noticed that those in the audience came from all different walks of life, but seemingly were watching for the same reasons. When something exciting happened, people cheered. When a yellow card was drawn, people were surprised. There seems to be an underlying binding effect that sports bring to dissimilar groups of people. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. I am a huge soccer fan and I empathize with the situation you were in. Being Korean and going to Korea this summer was interesting as, although I am relatively fluent, I am not a part of the culture at all. I also went to a soccer game there (though it was only a small club team) and was able to enjoy the match without feeling the constraints of my American upbringing. Sports (and arguably music as well) are definitely a universal language and one that has and will continue to break down barriers and create bonds.

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  3. Hey, great post! You did an awesome job showing the importance of sports in the modern world. Throughout history, sports have played an important role of bringing people together. Many people only think of prime-time athletic events when thinking about sports and unity like the Olympics or FIFA World Cup. However, there are many other instances where sports can transcend physical or intellectual boundaries. A sports game, itself, is quite similar to war. It arouses feelings of passion, pride, and loyalty among spectators. Association with a specific sport or sports team usually creates the feeling of “us” versus “them.” However, at the same time, sports can facilitate cooperation among rival nations. For example, the 1980 Soviet-U.S. hockey game exemplified the ability of sports to transcend physical reality. This game also showed how two opposing forces came together to celebrate something greater than politics. Why battle on the grass fields when you can do it in a hockey rink?

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  4. Great post! You did an awesome job of showing how sports can help break down cultural barriers. There are many examples of how sports transcend the physical world. In some instances, sport can act as the facilitator of political cooperation. An example of this would be the 1980 Men’s Olympic Hockey match between the U.S. and Soviet Union. The Cold War had left tensions high between these two world superpowers. However, despite their political differences, both countries were willing to meet on the ice. This is an example of sportsmanship and an ability to put aside cultural differences for the greater good of sport.

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