Sport & Connected Communities

Do mention the C-word!!

You may have noticed that the term ‘community’ has become something of a cliche in media and political debates over the last two decades or more. Community leaders are asked to work with community police offers in order to improve community relations in the local community. This will also no doubt contribute to community cohesion. The c-word is vague enough that the speaker or writer doesn’t really have to say who or what is involved but draws in the warm-glow of associated ideas such as trust, reciprocity, belonging and security. As the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman has argued all this talk about community points to a growing uncertainty about what it means to be part of a community in a world where human populations are becoming increasingly mobile and social relations mediated.  In the past when people lived in relatively small groups and were much less mobile, a sense of community was primarily tied to familial and kinship networks, work and, perhaps, religion.  As populations grew and became increasingly urbanized newer forms of community emerged, including those tied to sport. Again, these would have been quite localised prior to the emergence of mass personalised transport in the post-war era. What we have been seeing in the more contemporary era is a decoupling of the link between locality and support for a team, notably as sport has become increasingly mediated and people are able to follow a range of national and international teams and players at a distance. At the same time, it’s interesting to note that the use of the term ‘community’ has also been growing in relation to sport and, in particular, football. For instance, we carried out a content analysis of the UK press using Nexis software and generated the following results;

1995 – 40

2005 – 134

2010 – 142

2011 – 164

2012 – 322

2013 – 380

2014 – 535

2015 – 232 (as of August 2015)

These results show that there has been a notable increase in the number of newspaper reports using the terms ‘community’ and ‘football’. Although we plan to study these results in a little more detail to see how the term ‘community’ is used, the data from the world of football reporting seems to echo that from other spheres. In other words, the increasing discussion of, and emphasis on, community may indicate a growing uncertainty over what community means in the contemporary era and, in this case, what the role of professional football clubs and players should be in underpinning a sense of community.