1. The Place and Role of Sports Sociology in the System of Sciences

1.1. A Discipline on the Borderline between Sports Studies and Sociology

In Bourdieu’s (2002) opinion, sports sociology as a discipline has to face a variety of difficulties: neither sportspeople nor sociologists consider it as a very serious science. Sportspeople are, naturally, familiar with the practical side of sports. They, are, however, not capable of discussing it at a scientific level. Sociologists, on the other hand, are able to discuss it as a social sub-system, but they are unwilling to do so. All in all, it is seen that sport as a social sub-system receives less attention from the scientific community than other disciplines (Schimank 1995).

Sports sociology researches the regularities, phenomena and processes of sport as a social sub-system, and also its relationships with other social sub-systems and with daily life. Answers are, primarily, sought to three questions:

  1. What happens in sports?

  2. In what ways do those things happen?

  3. Why do the things that happen take place? (Földesiné Szabó et al. 2010).

In the course of the development of sports sociology, three trends have gradually emerged. The followers of the first one look upon, and examine sport as a model of the functions of society. Those in the second branch examine sport in itself, as they believe that sport as such is interesting on its own right, and it is not necessary to find an excuse for research into it. Researchers in the third trend make efforts to apply one of the great social paradigms, theories on sports (e. g. structural-functionalism, symbolic interactionalism and phenomenology) (Héjjas 2006). Sports sociology differentiates between traditional and modern sports, and concentrates on the social aspects of the origins and evolution of the modern sports (Szabó 2009). The evolution of modern sport as a social sub-system made it evident that sport has a number of features that exclusively characteristic of sport itself, and make it possible to generate theories applicable specifically to the domain of sport (Schimank 1995).

1.2 Subject and Research Methodology of Sports Sociology

The major question of sports sociology, the subject of its research, is to find out why one person is active, whereas the other is passive in connection with sport (either in doing it or in consuming/watching it), and what socio-cultural, socio-economic and demographic factors play a role in, and explain, the different attitudes. What social changes and interrelations have shaped and influenced today’s position and functions of sport in modern society? An individual may have the following connections to sport:

  1. Active participation: doing sports occassionally or regularly, consuming sports; attending sports events, watching programmes in the media–TV, radio or on-line.

    1. Primary connection: physically active (those doing sports, workout)

    2. Secondary connection:

      1. People directly contributing to sports events: coaches, managers, referees, sports doctors etc.;

      2. People indirectly contributing: sports entrepreneurs, team owners, sports journalists;

      3. Those consuming sports directly: visitors of events, matches;

      4. Those consuming sports indirectly: following sports events and matches in the mass media.

2.Emotional connection

3.Intellectual connection (McPherson et al. 1989, quoted by Földesiné Szabó et al. 2010) Günther Lüschen (1980) analysed sports sociology publications that had appeared over the previous thirty years. Based upon the international position and possibilities of the discipline, Lüschen arranged the publications into the categories below:

  1. Sports and society, institutions and processes

    • Sport in modern society;

    • Sport and social stratification;

    • Sport and education;

    • International comparative analyses;

    • Sport and politics;

    • Sport and economy;

    • Sport-socialiation.

  2. Sport as a sui generis system

    • Small groups, social connections, management;

    • Career, amateurism, professionalization;

    • Sports organizations, organizational politics;

    • Structures of the individual branches of sport and changes in those structures.

  3. Deviations and social problems

    • The problem of deviation and control in sport;

    • Agression, violence and collective behaviour;

    • Discrimination and minority groups.

In the past nearly 40 years, however, both society and sport in have undergone tremendous changes. New phenomena, new problems emerged, and these did not leave sport as a social subsystem unaffected. Such problems and phenomena are, as summarized by e. g. Földesiné et. al. (2010):

• Sports and national identity;

• Sport and globalization;

• Sport and media;

• HIV-infection and AIDS in sport;

• Sport and gender;

• LMBT sportspeople, their situation in sports;

• Sports and sexual molestation;

• Sports and social changes;

• Football-huliganism and other deviant behaviour of the sports fans;

• Fitness industry from a sociological aspect.

The practical significance of sports sociology for society, and people working in sports is that it helps others to understand the following:

  1. the aspects of human behaviour related to sports;
  2. phenomena and processes going on in sports;
  3. the complex social phenomena, of which sport is a part (Földesiné et al. 2010).

Control questions:

  1. Summarize the subject, main questions of sports sociology, and its place in social studies!

  2. What are the main fields of research of sports sociology?

  3. What is the practical significance of sports sociology?