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Nationalism and sport are often intertwined, as sports provide a venue for symbolic competition between nations; sports competition often reflects national conflict, and in fact has often been a tool of diplomacy. The involvement of political goals in sport is seen by some as contrary to the fundamental ethos of sport being carried on for its own sake, for the enjoyment of its participants, but this involvement has been true throughout the history of sport.

Sports diplomacy

Most sports are contested between national teams, which encourages the use of sporting events for nationalist purposes, whether intentionally or not. The signalling of national solidarity through sport is one of the primary forms of banal nationalism.

Several sporting events are a matter of national pride; The Ashes is a matter of national pride between England and Australia. Also in cricket an India vs Pakistan match puts both countries on a virtual standstill as it is all about national pride during those matches.

The Olympic Games are the premier stage for nationalist competition, and its history reflects the history of political conflict since its inception at the end of the 19th century. The 1936 Summer Olympics held in Berlin was an illustration, maybe best acknowledged in hindsight, where an ideology was developing which used the event to strengthen its spread through propaganda. The boycott by the United Statesmarker and politically aligned nations of the 1980 Summer Olympics and the Soviet Unionmarker of the 1984 Summer Olympics were part of the Cold War conflict.

When apartheid was the official policy in South Africa, many sportspeople adopted the conscientious approach that they should not appear in competitive sports there. Some feel this was an effective contribution to the eventual demolition of the policy of apartheid, others feel that it may have prolonged and reinforced its worst effects. Many African nations boycotted the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montrealmarker, as a result of then New Zealand Prime Minister Robert Muldoon allowing the All Blacks to tour South Africa. The issue would later come to a head during the 1981 Springbok Tour.

George Orwell's essay "The Sporting Spirit" examines the effect nationalism plays on sport, where Orwell argues that various sporting events trigger violence between groups for the very reason of competition.

Nationalist sports

In the history of Ireland, Gaelic sports were clearly carried on with nationalist overtones: for example, for most of the last century a person could have been banned from playing Gaelic football, hurling, or other sport, if the person was seen to have played soccer, cricket, rugby or any other game which was perceived to be of British origin. Furthermore, the Old Firm derby in Glasgow featuring Celtic, historically linked to the city's Catholic community, and Rangers, similarly linked to the city's Protestant community, have also historically seen trends along religio-political lines.

The nationalistic Italian fascists also created Volata as their own home-grown alternative to soccer and rugby. It was intended to be a replacement for the popular British games that would be of a more local character, tracing its heritage back to the earlier Italian games of Harpastum and Calcio Fiorentinomarker. However, unlike its Gaelic equivalents, Volata was short-lived and is no longer played.

The policy of Spanish football team Athletic Bilbao of picking only Basque players is strongly linked to Basque nationalism.

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