From the chapter on China in Touchdown: An American Obsession Goes Global, in which the author notes that American football has drawn Chinese fans away from the NBA :

Playing football has gradually become a sign of fashion among some in the younger generation.

American football was introduced to China around the beginning of the twentieth century, a few decades after rugby. The Chinese gave the same name to these two sports due to the similar shape of the balls and the ways of playing, at least in people’s eyes. Both called ganlanqiu 橄榄球 (“olive ball” in Chinese), the two sports are differentiated by means of their national origin, with “British” (yingshi 英式) for rugby, and “American” (meishi 美式) for football….

By the end of the 1930s, American football had declined in popularity due to World War II, and finally disappeared completely in the beginning of the 1950s….

In promoting the NFL culture, the Super Bowl paves the way. The NFL offers this most valuable game to China for free. The Super Bowl XLIX attracted an audience of more than 10 million Chinese; and Super Bowl 50 was even played on Chinese Spring Festival Day. The Spring Festival Gala is the biggest evening party held by the CCTV and transmitted live on Spring Festival Eve. This traditional event started in 1983, and almost all Chinese families get together and watch nothing else but this party on TV (as many Americans do on Super Bowl day), transmitted live via more than nineteen media outlets, and attracting more than 12 million viewers. Of this audience, more than 5 million watched the game via the new media platforms, a growth of 85 percent over the last year.

The readership of #Super Bowl 50# was more than 380 million on micro-blog, which featured nearly three times as many as those on the game last year; and the issue was one of the top three sports issues on the micro-blog. It is worth noting that according to “the 2015 Sports White Book” published by micro-blog, the official blog account of the NFLCHINA represented the sixth biggest impact tournament institution on “the Ranking of Impact of Games and Medias,” surpassing some famous international professional leagues like the German Bundesliga and the Spanish Liga, thus proving the growing impact of the NFL in China (Di 50 Jie).

Additionally, after more than ten years of football development in China, in recent years, Chinese people, especially the younger generation, have seemed to grow tired of the over-coverage of NBA games….

“Gems and Pfister recruited a score of talented experts for Touchdown to produce what may well be that elusive definitive history. Awesome.” –Allen Guttmann, Amherst College, author of Sports: The First 5,000 Years

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From the Berkshire Encyclopedia of World Sport:

. . . The influence of politics on sports, coupled with the development of media coverage, was one of the defining features of the development of international sports during the latter part of the twentieth century. The late U.S. President Richard Nixon used the pretext of a sporting exchange to nurture closer relations with hard-line Communist China. A table t:ennis match was scheduled between the two nations. This match led to a short period of high-level exchange, which became known as “Ping-Pong diplomacy.” The role that sports have played in the hardening of attitudes in tense situations should not be underestimated. In the former Yugoslavia prior to the war in the Balkans, soccer teams provided a focus for demonstration and even violent conflict that served to challenge interethnic relations. Illustrative examples during the early 1990s were matches between the Red Star Belgrade (Serbia) and Dynamo Zagreb (Croatia), which took on a significant political element. These often violent, highly charged matches mirrored the tensions related to the slow, inexorable collapse of the Yugoslav state.

As sports provide a focus for social interaction they inevitably come under pressure from those people seeking to use sports events (or success in an event) to highlight a particular political agenda. In many cases the attempt to control the political environment through sports results in a spectacular and contentious sporting outcome. Sports are undoubtedly a political endeavor when they involve national rivalries, and politics likely will continue to be central for sports on many fronts, both in a theoretical sense and in a practical sense. The strong representational element within sports (which in turn are supported by the political system) elevates sports within our social psyche and so makes them more important to our societies. Sports provide everyone from a head of state to a fringe ideologue with the ability to present his or her message to millions across the globe.

In most nations a separation exists between those people in charge of developing sports and those people in charge of funding sports. Even this separation of power on sound organizational principles is an example of politics affecting sports. Such separation fundamentally affects the interaction between groups related to the funding and organization of sports. Often as a result of the organizing and planning process, sports tend to exhibit characteristics related to a particular national identity and its perceived uniqueness. During this nonlinear process sports become increasingly relevant to societies in a representational sense. We should not underestimate the importance of the representational element of sports to policy and political groups. Politicians and political structures usually act to channel national resources toward certain sporting goals, particularly when a sport has enjoyed success on the world stage. The potential of a feel-good factor provided by sporting success to sustain the popularity of politicians has been recognized since ancient Roman times. Despite the protestations of many administrators and sportspeople, the link between sports and politics was firmly established before sports became the all-pervasive element of popular culture that they are today.

Jonathan M. Thomas

See also Economics and Public Policy; Sports and National Identity

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