The growth of sport in the 20th and 21st centuries was helped along by technological change. Not only did this affect the equipment and the venues for sporting events, but also the ability of far ranging teams to meet and play, and, maybe even more significantly, media changes brought sporting events more spectators, ones that didn’t even need to leave their homes to follow the big game. And the games became bigger and sometimes international.
The late 19th century, saw the revival of the Olympic games. Here was a venue that would allow nations to compete with each other through their athletic representatives. These games have turned into the ultimate in spectator sports with people from all the competing nations interested in how their athletes fare against those of other nations. Winning engenders a sense of national pride, something that politicians can use for their own ends – witness the 1936 Summer Olympics held in Berlin, Germany, games that Hitler’s regime anticipated would showcase the superiority of the Aryan race.
The 1936 games were an extreme case. Most Olympic hosts, while hoping to showcase their own athletes, have a less controversial agenda behind their games. I personally witnessed how a venue can get into the Olympic spirit when Vancouver hosted the 2010 Winter games. While most of the actual games were held elsewhere, the people on the streets of Vancouver became part of the action, visiting the art gallery, riding on the zip line and/or breaking into a dancing flash mob on Robson Street. This showed how sport can bring people together in a positive way.
Zip line on Robson Street, Vancouver
Of course, sport can also have a less positive side. Bringing together large groups of people to focus on one event is a double edged sword. The Vancouver Olympics of 2010 showed how the crowd can use its energy in a benign way. The following year, in the same city, the crowd turned ugly when the visiting team won the Stanley Cup. In the ensuing riot, people were stabbed, cars were toppled and torched, windows were broken and stores were looted. But, for good or evil, sport and the ability to participate in it in various ways are now taken for granted in a way that would amaze our forebears.
The boarded up windows of the downtown Bay Store after the riot.
A close up of one of the window boards which attracted an outpouring of love and healing for the city.