During the past decades, sports have become one of the most globally connected of human activities, and a business of unmatched global reach. The 2018 Soccer World Cup—the most emblematic globalized sports event—was watched by over a billion people in all 195 of the world’s countries. Prominent sports figures—Lionel Messi, Lebron James, and Serena Williams —are global celebrities, instantaneously recognizable by people in many corners of the world. Global brands like Coca Cola, Adidas, and Rakuten, seek to link themselves to the globality of sports and become “citizens of the world,” while at the same time the sports clubs they sponsor look to identify themselves with local communities.
The globality of sports and its corresponding deep connection to place has a long history, and the Global Sports Initiative at the Weatherhead Research Cluster on Global Transformations at Harvard University focuses on exploring the past and present of sports through uniquely global and local links. Bringing together scholars from various disciplines, as well as practitioners involved in sports today, the initiative seeks to create research relevant to the study of sports and society. This inter-disciplinary and inter-industry dialogue can establish better mechanisms for understanding sports’ global connections and impact on important current and future cultural, economic, political and social concerns.
Focusing on sports allows us to contribute to a whole range of debates on immigration, class, capitalism, as well as to disentangle the endlessly fascinating history of the industry itself. The Global Sports Initiative will look to better understand how these subjects relate to issues such as national and other forms of identity, gender relations, race, political economy and the desire for greater social welfare.
The Weatherhead Research Cluster on Global Transformations to date has held three conferences on sports with a focus on soccer and globalization. These conferences have served as the foundation for the creation of The Global Sports Initiative, which through a speaker series, research projects and publications, will serve to better understand the relationship of sports to 20th century history, to contemporary life, and to a sustainable future.