Sports and the Media

Olga Korbut, Soviet Gaymnast in 1972 Munich Olympics

Modern sport is characterized by its precise attempts to achieve outstanding performances. It is indebted to the English for this characteristic which raised it from the level of pure enjoyment and differentiated it from its more pedagogical side, gymnastics. They were the first industrial people in the new world and they also provided sport with its technical refinements. It was in England that athletic performances were first measured. It was for this purpose that they invented the stop-watch in the year 1737 and simultaneously with this precision in the making of comparisons.

In ancient Greece, sport was a means of encouraging the harmonious development of the bodies and minds of individuals ; the Roman arenas turned sport into a big show. In the Middle Ages, sport was practised by the nobles who organised tournaments to exercise themselves in the martial arts, while today it is often claimed that the sports movement can only be really understood in its relationship to industrial development. It is undoubtedly not by chance that the sports developments of this century very often originated in Great Britain, cradle of the industrial revolution, that sport is more widespread in the industrialised countries, especially the big urban centres, and that the athletes of these countries hold almost all the world records.

Originally, sport is any form of physical activity that is performed for pleasure and the love of effort. Those who practise sport however also seek a moral or material reward. The wish to be able to defend oneself and to keep fit can also be a reason for practising sport.

As an increasing number of countries came to participate in international competition, sport became a global phenomenon in another sense.Satellite television, new developments in electronic technology and rapid and relatively inexpensive travel made televised sport as a form of popular entertainment accessible throughout the world. As late as 1960 American network television was not yet providing full weekend sports coverage, and CBS bought the American television rights to the Rome Olympics for a mere $500.000. Network interest had, however, already improved the fortunes of American football, turning it from baseball’s poor relation into the dominant American media sport.

In Europe, as in America, established national sports and large-scale international competitions were the first beneficiaries of television, but rivalry between television networks increased the variety of broadcast events. Sports organizations that had initially resisted television coverage out of fears of lost ticket sales came to recognize the potential revenue in television rights. By the mid 1960s CBS was paying the National Football League $14 million a year for exclusive television coverage, and was pioneering a further development of television’s relations with sport by buying its own baseball team, the New York Yankees.

Television came increasingly to select people’s experiences of local, national and international competitions. The development of video technology facilitated the presentation of sport as entertainment by the selection of key moments to be replayed. This also made possible the instant “action replay” and allowing studio experts to analyze the play and criticize the judges, superseding the old style of commentary which had attempted only to inform about the run of play and to convey some the the excitement of the event.

In 1964 color cameras were used to transmit live pictures of the Olympic Games in Tokyo via satellite to audiences around the world. People in Europe, North and South America, Asia and Africa saw the imaginative flair and efficiency of the first Olympic Games to be held in Asia. Champions from other countries became household names. Sport became a prime subject for the world communications of McLuhan’s “global village” to watch, to witness, and to argue over.

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