Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Fans as ambassadors

One argument for hosting global sports events such as the FIFA world cup is that the exposure can help to forge a positive image of the host country’s nation and culture (Sola, 1998).  Certainly, imagery of passionate Brazillian supporters creating a sea of yellow shirts in the stadia, cheering their team, and then crying and chewing up flags towards the end of the competition did much to reinforce stereotypes of a nation obsessed with football and its national team’s performance.

The same principal may also apply though to visiting supporters who act as unofficial/part-time ambassadors for their country.  You may, for example, have read in newspapers or websites about a reported tradition amongst a section of Japanese supporters who tidy up litter in stadiums after their team’s matches, using blue plastic bags.  According to The Wall Street Journal (2014) “The state government of Rio de Janeiro last week recognized those tidying efforts, holding a ceremony to thank fans of the Samurai Blue who cleaned up after matches.”

Closer to home (for us here in York, UK at least) football fans may remember Scotland’s ‘Tartan Army’ receiving The Belgian Olympic Committee’s annual Fair Play Prize for their sportsmanlike conduct at the Belgium v Scotland match in September 2001.  This built on a tradition for the Tartan Army, who had formed the Scotland Travel Club in 1980 to encourage responsible behaviour at away matches, following a series of violent clashes . Scotland fans went on to win awards for good conduct at the 1992 European Championships in Sweden and at the 1998 World Cup in France.

And as well as helping to publicise their country, fans might themselves benefit from media coverage – a 17 year-old Belgian fan was ‘discovered’ by beauty firm L’Oreal after a World Cup photo went viral (The Independent, 2014), although the company was soon forced to drop her after pictures of her on a hunting trip in Africa emerged on Twitter.

As one of the most important stakeholders in football – arguably those for whom the game exists – it is no surprise that media attention upon this group increases as media coverage of football events itself increases.  Hosting the world cup may create benefits in terms of national profile, but qualifying can also create similar benefits if your fans are well behaved.  Japan has promoted its image as a highly civilised and ordered society abroad – this may act as a spur to tourism and investment in that country.

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