Updated: Nov 18, 2020
Many students nowadays are able to count themselves as the lucky people in the world; to be able to travel the planet and live and study in multiple countries or even continents. Of course, this experience brings with it the ability to notice the similarities and differences between countries and their cultures, whether these may be temporal, culinary or even to do with sport. Whilst sports are not the first thing that people usually seek out when they come to a foreign country, once they have settled in, it is still an important part of our culture. Being one of these lucky people, my move to Maastricht has made me realise that there is a closer connection between sport and culture than meets the eye.
Mainland Europe at least is dominated by one sport that attracts fans from all over the globe and moves an incredible amount of money each transfer window. What else could it be but the world’s game: Football. With major leagues in Italy, England, Germany and Spain, along with various continent-wide cups and competitions, Europe truly houses the golden crown of football. Mainland Europe does of course know other sports, but none seem to have the appeal, the popularity or the fan-base that football does.
However, once again, it is time to pick on the odd one out when it comes to Europe, the weird cousin in the European family, who always seems to be causing trouble and who no-one quite knows what to do with. I am of course talking about the United Kingdom, which now more than ever makes the impression that it wants to distance itself from the rest of Europe . Not being joined to the rest of Europe geographically speaking and having a rather useful waterway as a barrier, the British society has developed differently throughout the ages than the rest of Europe has. This can not only be seen legally, socially but also from a sports perspective. Next to football, numerous other vastly popular sports are carried out, with rugby and cricket being two excellent examples. I am not trying to diminish the popularity or the value of English football (God knows that even aliens know that Leicester won the premiership), but from what I have seen other sports appear to be on an equal footing with football in England and Britain in general, whereas this does not appear to be the case for the rest of Europe.
Having had reasonable success in being a dominating world power that seeks to own every piece of land it encounters, Britain managed to influence the sport cultures of nearly every single continent and they brought a lot more than just a football. Cricket is played across the Caribbean, in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. Rugby too is widely popular in many of these countries, with the addition of the Pacific Isles and Japan. Whilst all of these countries also know football, it does not enjoy the same popularity that it does in Europe. The fact that seems to make itself plain the more this phenomenon is observed is that football does not dominate the sports culture in those countries where the British Empire once had influence. Whilst this may have to do with the fact that England is not actually that good at football (sarcasm), it is also possible that this is because of the temporary nature of English sports. Whilst football is an all-year festival of endless and repetitive matches, cricket and rugby are seasonal sports, of which only one is played at a given time of year.
This creates an additional hype whenever a new season is about to begin, since the players and fans have been deprived of the sport in question for half a year. This hype that occurs every 6 months ensures that the sport is always perceived as exciting and ‘new’, unlike football, which goes on and on in endless loops. In short, these other seasonal sports are more refreshing. Excellent examples of these seasonal sports are rugby and cricket in both Australia and the United Kingdom. Here, rugby is played during the winter months, whilst cricket is played during the summer. A difference between these two countries is also the fact that in Australia, football is not played a lot at all. Instead, cricket seems to be focus during the summer months (November-April) and has become such an ingrained part of the summer as the beach and the heat. Indeed, ‘crickalendar’ is a term to be found in the Urban Dictionary, describing Australians using what days the cricket is on as the relevant measurement of time, especially during the summer holidays. In Australia, the hype that seasonal sports create can be felt all the more recently, due to the introduction of the family friendly league, known as the Big Bash League, or BBL. This spectacle lasts for the summer holidays and consistently draws record crowds to its matches, which are played daily. Whilst the season does not last that long, especially when compared to football, it is extreme fun for all involved and provides a great feeling that only adds to the summer.
This article was not in any way meant to disparage any type of sport; the intention was rather more to reflect on the significance of different types of sports and connect these to the elements of culture, as this is a dimension that is not often addresses when drawing comparisons between different cultures. In conclusion, sports, no matter which type or format will always influence the culture where it is played. Football has created a massive fan-base around the world and this can especially be felt in Europe. Many people are adamant and proud supporters of their local clubs, the highest national league teams and their international squad. Arriving in Europe and seeing this dedicated fan culture is exciting and exhilarating; at first at least. Other sports take a bit of a backseat in favour of football, which however repeats itself, season after season, without noticeable change or a recognisable ‘fresh start’. To me, this became slightly repetitive after a while. But then again, I am more used to the seasonal sport approach from Australia, where the seasons change regularly and hype for a sport exists for a shorter period of time. Each of these approaches reflects the culture where they are played in: Europe is one the centres of global and political events, people are constantly busy, leave their home country during holidays to go on vacation and therefore enjoy the comfort of a distraction that is constantly there. In Australia on the other hand, the summer holidays are a time for people to relax, but they do not leave their homes to go on vacation. This is the perfect platform for a summer spectator sport to take place. Throughout the rest of the year, this would not be possible, since in their everyday lives people do not have the time to enjoy a game which can last up to five days. Yes it actually can take that long…