As with the recent unfolding of world events, we can see exactly how sport plays a far larger role in society then we may once have thought. With the ongoing epidemic that is COVID-19, we have seen within the past few weeks the cancellation of both professional and amateur sports leagues around the world. Due to the impending uncertainty of the virus, this was the only viable option, however, many fans were displeased by the decision.
An example of this phenomenon occurred last week in Melbourne during the Australian Grand Prix. After a driver for McLaren tested positive for COVID-19, the team pulled of the race, ultimately leading to the cancellation of the event by organizers. Fans who had arrived for the practice on Friday morning were then informed by a man with a loudspeaker that the event was cancelled later on that day, leading to a mass of unimpressed Formula One fans. Many fans were quoted saying that they thought the decision to cancel the event was “disgusting” and “terrible”; it brings to light the question of how tied to one’s identity has sports become?
As sports can be seen as an escape from reality for most, whenever it is taken away, it can cause distress to those who utilize it as such. We have seen this numerous times throughout history, most notably with the presence of the NHL lockouts with the most recent taken place in 2012. During this time frame, the media captured masses of dedicated fans protesting outside the NHL offices in midtown Manhattan. However, unlike the situation we find ourselves in today, this issue was not caused by the battle over monetary funds, but, rather, over life and death. Even with this being said, we have seen widespread outrage from various fanbases who seemingly would rather have their beloved games to keep playing even if that put their favourite athletes at risk.
Sociologists have intensively studied the effects that sport participation has upon athletes’ identity formation for years, however, its effect on fans’ identity is less understood. It has been discovered, however, by enlisting a Durkheimian theoretical perspective that fans feel a deep connectivity to their sports team and that this leads them to feel an intense sense of social unity which reaffirms group ideals at both the civic and kin levels. Therefore, when obstacles occur and disrupt their community, fans may feel that they are at risk of losing a part of themselves, as sports have become a part of their identity. In such case, sport has become a social glue for our society.