Sports sociology is the branch of sociology that deals with sports as social activity. This field of study is majorly concerned with various socio-cultural structures, patterns, and organizations or groups involved with sporting activities. There are quite a number of views or rather perspectives through which we can view sports. Hence, often some sporting divisions such as professional, amateur, top-level, spectator or even men/women sports are always stressed. These just try to explain the fact that sports is an institutionalized activity.
Sports can be looked at from several theoretical perspectives including conflict, functionalist, integrationist, and feminist. Functionalism is a theoretical orientation which views society as a system of interdependent parts whose functions contribute to keep society alive and stable. Functionalism provides the basic framework for building a theory that views the society as a complex system but whose parts work together to promote unity and stability. Sports have been a part of society since time immemorial. The emergence of the sociology of sport dates from the end of the 19th century when sports was used even as a peace-making event (Maguire, 2002).
The Conflict theory is the point of view that centers on the social, political and discrimination perspective of sports in the social group. Sports may also be studied as a field of contested activities that comprises of a collection of activities involving various people or representing various interest groups. Conflict also explains the tensions in the society and the capacity of these tensions to burst and form open change in the society. Sports therefore can be said to create some level of equilibrium in the society because it involves several players in the sense that, for instance, in the game of football, sports organizations are able to earn from organizing sporting events and charging spectators on a pay-as-you-watch basis whereas spectators are drawn away from their daily worries for a while by putting their attention in the sport and having leisure (Jarvie, 2006).
Interactionism also as a sociological school of thought which examines how several other aspects of the social framework pass message and meaning, and thereby promoting or discouraging the way people communicate. Sports as one of the activities in the society helps to pass a message of peace and integration and has even been used in several occasions to promote peace and cohesion within and between nations. Participation in sporting activities also expresses an image of a person being social and good at interacting with others on other social levels (Maguire, 2002).
Gender disparities in the society which basically refer to the masculinity or femininity of an individual in the society also play a big role in expressing people’s personalities. Feminism theory can also be used to explain the case of gender disparity in sports which has been happening for quite a long period of time. It tries to clarify the notion why some sports were viewed as masculine and forbidden for women. For example, games such as golf, which actually means gentlemen only ladies forbidden, was traditionally played by gentlemen only until recently when female sports personalities ventured into the game (Jarvie, 2006).
In general, whereas functionalism tries to explain the way sports operates in the society, the conflict theory tries to enable us see the various social tensions and how sporting activities chip in to try and bring some element of equilibrium. Feminism sheds light on the gender discrimination in sports and interactionism elaborates the use of sports as a tool of communication in the society. Of all the theories, functional theory seems to explain the whole social framework and the implications that sporting activities have in it.
On the other hand, other than theoretical perspectives, sports also involve other aspects such as social problems. For instance, sports have often been associated with drugs and drug abuse. This is because of the misconception that some undesirable conditions are associated with sports. Some athletes have been found to fail doping tests due to use of banned drugs, others have been involved in violence or perpetrated sexist or racist behaviors (Scambler, 2005).
Media of mass communication have also been largely involved with sports through broadcasting. Organized sports provide much of the content viewed on television, for example football, basketball, cricket or swimming. Sporting events such as Olympics and Commonwealth games are normally aired live to a large number of viewers who cannot to go to the stadium (Jarvie, 2006).
So many people participate in sports for several reasons. Professional sportsmen and sportswomen take part in sports to earn a living because sports offer employment. They also earn from other endorsements such as advertisement for mass media companies whereas the media houses also benefit from them through increased sales from adverts. On the other hand, some amateurs also participate in sports just for fun and pleasure instead of job. Sport stadia management organizations and broadcasting stations also make money through airing sporting events thus sports offers several business opportunities (Maguire, 2002).