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‘We need to take a realistic view of sport as a glue that holds the community together; sport brings together, but it also divides,’ according to sports sociologist Ramón Spaaij. Spaaij has been appointed professor by special appointment of Sports Sociology at the University of Amsterdam effective September. The chair was established on behalf of the W.J.H. Mulier Institute Foundation (Stichting W.J.H. Mulier Instituut).

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Sport can have a positive influence on social cohesion by bringing together people from diverse backgrounds. Sport also has important educational benefits, such as teaching us how to deal with differences, competition and the pressure to perform. Spaaij: ‘Sport is often used to tackle delinquent behaviour among young people, encourage integration and improve the quality of life in city neighbourhoods. Sport is even playing an ever more prominent role in international development cooperation and conflict management.'

A realistic view of sport

Nevertheless, the socially cohesive effect of sport should not be overstated, according to Spaaij. Things can go very wrong in sport, as evidenced by recent violent incidents in amateur football, such as the death of linesman Richard Nieuwenhuizen. Spaaij: 'It is not an automatic process that people from different backgrounds play sports together. Some people, such an non-Western migrants and people with a disability, come up against high social and cultural barriers to participation in sport. This is why we need a realistic view of the role sport plays in the structure of society: as a glue that holds society together, but also as a source of conflict and differentiation. This will be the focus of my work as a professor by special appointment of Sports Sociology at the UvA.'

About Ramón Spaaij 

Ramón Spaaij researches the effects of sport on society. As a researcher he has garnered much expertise in the area of social cohesion, conflict and social change in relation to sport. Spaaij has been a senior research fellow in the Sociology and Anthropology Department of La Trobe University in Australia since 2010. In addition, he is a visiting professor at the Utrech University School of Governance (USG).