Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Sports Is (or Are) The World’s Most Obvious Display of Nationalism

Written by: on January 17, 2018


Talk about visual ethnography! This picture tells a powerful narrative of Nelson Mandela shaking the hand of World Cup rugby champion and Springbok captain Francois Pienaar. How in the world did Madiba forsee this opportunity to unite his racially divided country? It was simply brilliant to capitalize on a newly forged South African NATIONALISM through sports!

Today’s CNN.com headline reads, “North and South Korea to March Together at Olympics”. [2] This is another example of sports being the first foray into crossing lines of nationalism to highlight what is best about your own country, while reaching out to others. The Olympics are an awesome display of nationalism occuring when the world’s national anthems are played during medal presentations. I can hardly wait for next month’s PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games in South Korea. Nationalism! With North Korea cooperating, of all countries! I think it’s mostly because North Korea wants to display its own form of nationalism…But please don’t get me started on former NBA player Dennis Rodman being some type of ambassador to North Korea.

Need further proof that nationalism is on display through sports? Consider this photo:


Do you think Hitler understood nationalism?  The great Jesse Owens elevated the rest of the world’s point that Germany had it wrong. (By the way, my new critical thinking skills doubted whether this photo was real. Guess what, snopes.com states this photo is a FAKE). [4]

Like it or not, sports is (or are) the world’s most obvious display of nationalism. (Sorry, I can’t remember what the proper English is for the above sentence–Is “sports” singular or plural?)  One simply need to think only a little about Dr. Jason Clark’s frequent happiness in talking about his beloved England and the sport of cricket. A form of nationalism! (Or is it spelled nationalizm in his country?)

Need further examples? Brazil and soccer! As a youngster, I was able to go see the great Brazilian soccer player, Pele, play in an exhibition match. It was obvious national pride was on display from Brazil over their golden boy. Today, that country gushes with nationalism in the same way with their legendary footballer Ronaldo, or even the talented Zico.

Even our author mentioned Cambodia displaying a form of nationalism in their national sports stadium. [5]

I have only travelled to 17 different countries so far. I am quite sure there are some in our LGP8 Cohort who have been to many more. No one can argue that wherever they have travelled in the world, sports are in the forefront for nationalism. Greg, from our Cohort, probably sees nationalism in Chinese diving or gymnastics. Mark’s country has nationalism displayed through curling.

I remember the day I was traveling through the South American country of Bolivia (Note: Anderson states in our reading that nationalism began outside of Europe in places like South America). [6]  I happened to be in the most remote part of that country, over 13,000 feet in elevation, during the Copa-America soccer tournament, of which Bolivia was playing their arch rival, Chile. Talk about nationalism! Those two countries were going at it on the pitch and in the stands, while at the same time reliving their territorial war from the 1870’s where Chile stole the land by the sea from Bolivia. For crying out loud, it happened 150 years ago, but they were still passionately nationalistic!

Now, to go deeper into our reading of Anderson, and so everyone cannot make fun of my lack of academia in this post, using once again, my new critical thinking skills, where was the word PRIDE in this book? To me, nationalism is highly connected to national PRIDE. When I did a word search through my Kindle app, I found it buried in the pages, but finally there it was. [7]

Pride for me is the main component of our topic. I understand the author admitted nationalism is difficult to define and there is no “scientific definition” of a nation. [8] He went on to express nationalism as being connected to “nation-ness”. [9] I had a hard time getting my mind around that one. He further expressed talk of nationalism including concepts like “nationality” [10], “limited” [11], and “sovereign”. [12]

I was even more confused. However, I respected the author greatly when he coined the term “IMAGINED COMMUNITY” [13] and that is where my mind finally rested on our topic. I think he nailed it on the head. If someone imagines their community, we have a form of nationalism. Christians do this all the time. I attended a Dutch Reformed High School in Denver. They imagined themselves a community in the inner city, and they were a strong one when they did so.

So here is my deepest thought and question, for this week. America is a country of immigrants (except for Native Americans). We are the melting pot of nationalities, perhaps like no other place on earth. How does a country like ours build nationalism in America, while not making people lose their their previous national identity?

For example, I have heard well meaning people express their desire that all Americans speak English before becoming citizens. To me, this is unrealistic. Our pride in America was not built on language! It was built on independence and ingenuity.

My denomination was based upon the German migration. In the 1900’s, there was great pressure by the Brethren to have German be the language of the church.  When the young people expressed their desire for English to be the language of choice, the older generation cried “foul”. We actually have a congregation who has stubbornly stuck to their German only language preference, but they only have about 11 people left in their once booming congregation. Language cannot be the only foundation of their imagined community.

In closing, I had a difficult time connecting this book to my research topic, Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, and the problem of graduates of the class not necessarily becoming more generous with their time, talents and treasures. I apologize, and pledge I will try harder in future readings to connect better, in ways that are meaningful to my research.


[1] Rogers, David. “Mandela Used Sport to Unite Racially Divided Country.” NY Daily News. December 05, 2013. Accessed January 17, 2018. http://www.nydailynews.com/.

[2] Jong, Sophie. “North and South Korea to March Together at Olympics.” CNN. February 19, 2014. Accessed January 17, 2018. http://www.cnn.com/.

[3] Elon, Dan. “Jesse Owens and Hitler Shook Hands.” Snopes.com. January 6, 2017. Accessed January 17, 2018. https://www.snopes.com/.

[4] Ibid., January 17, 2018.

[5] Anderson, Benedict R. O’G. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso, 2016. Loc. 3569.

[6] Ibid., Loc 54.

[7] Ibid., Loc. 2272.

[8] Ibid., Loc. 168.

[9] Ibid., Loc. 182.

[10] Ibid., Loc. 182

[11] Ibid., Loc. 223.

[12] Ibid., Loc. 227.

[13] Ibid., Loc. 206.

About the Author

Jay Forseth

Superintendent of the Western Conference of the Evangelical Church. Blessed with 28 years as the husband of my amazing wife who I can't make it without. Now three of four in our family are attending University, but both my children are way smarter than me.

7 responses to “Sports Is (or Are) The World’s Most Obvious Display of Nationalism”

  1. Jean Ollis says:

    Hi Jay! I always smile while I’m reading your posts – you have a way of making challenging topics entertaining. While you couldn’t find a good connect to your research topic, you connected to mine – “We are the melting pot of nationalities, perhaps like no other place on earth. How does a country like ours build nationalism in America, while not making people lose their their previous national identity?” This is exactly my question – even more so for resettled refugees. How do you feel Americans should respond to refugees?

    • Jay Forseth says:

      Jean, I was a little transparent in my response to your blog. I did not realize you asked my a question until after I read your post.

      I think we should respond with open, but realistic, arms. We must VET properly, and then love them with the love of Jesus. Easier said than done when considering bringing someone from a far away land…especially when we have hurt and lost in our own country.

  2. Dan Kreiss says:

    I wonder whether you think of sports events as an ‘Imagined Community’ the way Anderson does or is it only ‘imagined’ when they are not present together in the same stadium but are believed to share similar passions? How then also might a church community also be ‘imagined’? I think you are correct in recognizing a multitude of communities that one could belong to. Each one unique and bonding together through different shared assumptions.

    Perhaps in your case an imagined community could be churches who utilize Dave Ramsey’s material in hopes of greater tithing or maybe even individuals who have committed to practicing his system.

  3. Great post Jay! I loved the fact that you focused on the nationalism displayed at sporting events because I also highlighted the fact that our national anthem is sung by thousands almost exclusively at sporting events. Your deep thought and question was great: “So here is my deepest thought and question, for this week. America is a country of immigrants (except for Native Americans). We are the melting pot of nationalities, perhaps like no other place on earth. How does a country like ours build nationalism in America, while not making people lose their previous national identity?” I agree that this has got to be a challenge for many who don’t fit the stereotypical def. of American, although they are most likely in this country because it is a place to give them more opportunities. I think we need to have pride in our country while celebrating our diversity.

  4. M Webb says:


    Good use of “brilliant!” Dr. J will also enjoy your reference to cricket. It’s almost like you walked up and put an apple on his desk on your way out of class!

    Good critical analysis on the Owens-Hitler picture too. Snopes.com is right. I am glad you did not show a picture of him painted into the Last Supper.

    To answer your question on how the US builds nationalism with such a melting pot of ethnicities, immigrants, and refugees I reflected on our four-legged friends and how they create their pack pride. So, using a mutt approach to nationalism, a dog of unknown ancestry, can cause us to use our imagination and at the same time have some fun describing how our dogs from different homes, towns, and countries can come together and form a pack community so easily. The process is not near as complicated as Anderson’s analysis.

    Mutt nationalism starts with a lot of barking, tail wagging, sniffing each other’s behinds, and running around in circles. After a few minutes, the mutts calm down, form their community, and lay down for a rest.

    Good luck with this analogy!

    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

  5. Jason Turbeville says:

    I too see sports as a perfect example of an imagined community. This brings to mind a mission trip to Thailand during the Fifa World Cup in South Africa. Thailand is a country filled with ex-pats and to walk by the bars, hotels and restaurants while the games were on you would have thought you were peaking in on a German home, or an English pub, of a cafe in France. For just a moment they were home again and rooting for the love of country (imagined or not). It is an interesting study of allegiance.

  6. Chris Pritchett says:

    What an interesting, thoughtful and creative post, Jay. Thank you for interpreting Anderson’s text through the lens of sports. I am guilty!

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