Sport and masculinity

Activist and scholar Jerome Teelucksingh takes readers through time to look at the impact of past events on Trinidad and Tobago today. His Newsday column Trini Time Travellers will appear every Thursday from January 4. 
Teelucksingh is known as an advocate of International Men’s Day and World Day of the Boy Child and commentator on social issues.


IN THE Caribbean, more men than women tend to be involved in sporting activities. Sport has become one of the most important factors in defining and influencing Caribbean masculinities in the 20th and 21st centuries.

For more than a century, cricket, rugby and football (soccer) have been manifestations of masculinity. Boys aspiring to be men seek the avenue of cricket and/or football to earn the admiration of peers and gain the approval of society. In most countries cricket and football remain two of the forces shaping the macho image.

The exploits and influence of past and present football stars are critical in understanding the inner desire and determination of Latin American and Caribbean men to enter sport and aspire for financial success and fame.

As in other regions, the Caribbean and Latin America have a considerable list of "marginalised sports." Games such as boxing, weightlifting, karate, volleyball, rugby, swimming, tennis and horse racing often compete with football and cricket for financial resources and, more importantly, the attention of the public.

Interestingly, the duration and level of activity of a particular sport often determine the status of that sport among men. An illustration is football, a game lasting 90 minutes in comparison to cricket, which can last between one and five days.

It can be argued that geographical factors need to be considered. For example, in South America, football has the potential to generate a considerable amount of enthusiasm. Likewise, in India and Pakistan the game of cricket is the heart and soul of most of their citizens.

The unknowing promotion of such stereotypes has hinged on the participation of men in certain sports. For instance, in the English-speaking Caribbean, netball and aerobics have been seen as appealing to women. However, an interesting development in recent years has been the increasing involvement of men in these two sporting areas.

Additionally, both sexes participate, though to a limited extent, in taekwondo and marathons. The ultimate test in endurance and perseverance, the marathon remains one of the bastions of gender equality that has not as yet been eroded by sporting stereotypes.

Sports also possess the potential to create divisions among men. For instance, men possessing the necessary money and time are usually involved in golf, which is usually associated with a certain social status and class. In the Caribbean and Latin American region, this game is usually associated with people in the upper-middle class or upper-class lifestyle.

The costs of membership, equipment, special diets and rigorous training are restrictions which allow only a few privileged people access to certain sports.

In the poorer countries, the cost of competing at the regional and international levels, coupled with self-discipline, often result in sport remaining a hobby, a form of relaxation or even an outlet for frustration for the working class.

The dream of becoming a rich and famous sports star eludes many owing to the uncertainties surrounding a career in sport. Poor performance or injuries are factors which prematurely end the promising careers of young sportsmen. The reality of an early retirement in sport results in a dilemma, especially among breadwinners in a large family. Such a problem will lead to either subtle apathy for the particular sport or an eventual eclipsing of sport from its association with masculinity.

Not surprisingly, negative publicity, such as the doping scandals in athletics and match-fixing allegations in cricket, has not affected the support and interest among men.

Undoubtedly, the strong emphasis on primary and secondary education rather than sport results in increased competition for well-paid jobs. This would contribute to the decision to participate at the national level rather than becoming a professional. The result has been an increase of local clubs and neighbourhood games throughout the West Indian islands and Latin America.

Indeed, the involvement of males in sporting activities and acceptance by supporters have become a yardstick to measure and determine the macho appeal which will influence another generation. The emergence of new sports and new techniques to improve the level of playing will impact on redefining masculinity. The relationship between the passion of the fans and the players has created a unique space which will continue to exist beyond the 21st century.


"Sport and masculinity"

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