Cultural, gender and racial differences in sports are often observed but rarely acknowledged as important facets to sports management. Currently, there are many racial profiles regarding sports; like the common assumption that African Americans are better at sports than whites or Asians and males are better at sports than females (Bloom & Willard, 2002, p. 1).
These assumptions may have some grain of truth but they should not be used to generalize athletes and dictate the way sports is managed. Unfortunate or otherwise, sports management and athlete attitudes are largely influenced by such sort of stereotypes and this influences athlete performance and participation.
To understand the diversity brought about by cultural, racial and gender parameters, we will analyze Kenya, a country predominantly known to be the world’s long distance running capital. Kenya is located in East Africa and has been historically known to produce 20% of the world’s long distance runners since 1996 (Mosley, 2010, p. 3).
Apart from the vivid racial stereotypes characterizing black runners in Kenya and other runners from other racial groups, Kenya has a wide cultural and gender diversity which characterizes sports participation.
The level of sports participation between males and females in the country is interestingly wide and the types of sporting activities the youth participate in have been deeply entrenched in the country’s cultural divide (East African Community, 2010, p. 2). These factors will act as the pillar to this analysis.
This study is therefore multifaceted because it will explore three parameters (gender, culture and race) and their influence on sports management and athlete attitudes in Kenya.
The first analysis will compare Kenyan runners with other racial groups in long distance running and the second analysis will evaluate the role gender parity has to play in sports participation and management in the country. Lastly, we will establish how cultural diversity influences the attitudes of sports managers and athletes across the country’s gender divide.
It is interesting to note that racial bias in sports is a huge phenomenon which is evidently noticeable in virtually all sporting activities. Various racial stereotypes have therefore been formed as sampled by Mosley (2010) that “Elite black athletes have a phenotypic edge over athletes of other races and this edge derives from genotypic differences between the races” (p. 1).
Also to back up the racial differences in sports, Asians are considered to comprise about 57% of the world population but they don’t characterize some of the most democratic forms of sports, like running, football, or basketball; on the other hand, Africans who are estimated to constitute only 12% of the world population dominate most of major sporting activities like football, running and basketball (Mosley, 2010).
Running is the best sporting activity for this analysis because for athletes to perform well in the sport, little socioeconomic factors need to be considered. In other words, for one to excel in running, there are minimal facilities needed to perfect skills. Even the level of coaching needed is very low. Nonetheless, in almost every long distance marathon, a person of African origin usually wins.
Despite the success being associated with Africa, many of the high performing runners do not come from all zones of Africa. Instead, East Africa (and more notable, Kenya) is noted to be the home of runners (Mosley, 2010, p 4). The high level of success attributed to Kenyan runners has therefore affected the attitude of sports managers and athletes who almost entirely dedicate most of their time towards excelling in the sports.
If we trace the history of major long distance runners in Kenya, almost 90% of them hail from one major community (Nilotes) who were historically known for their opposition to colonial rule (Mosley, 2010, p.7).
Because of colonial opposition, Mosley recounts that the community was largely encouraged to undertake athletic activities to “blow off steam”, back in the day. However, some scholars have not directly accepted this theory as a possible explanation to Kenya’s excellence in modern world sporting events (Mosley, 2010, p. 8).
Nonetheless, the excellent performance of Kenya in long distance running has prompted most athletes to concentrate on the sport under the notion that excellence is an automatic guarantee if one hails from places perceived to be home to long distance running. Infarct some sports managers have recommended that other participants from other races train in this homeland of long distance runners (Mosley, 2010).
In this regard, many hopeful athletes from other races throng Nandi hills and Eldoret which are the two major towns in Kenya harboring long distance runners (Mosley, 2010, p. 10). Unfortunately, this hysteria with long distance running has rubbed the local youth in a negative way because most of them are leaving conventional ways of modern socioeconomic life and trying a hand in running.
Education has taken the brunt of this attitude because the local youth have abandoned conventional education systems and decided to take up sports as a way of life.
Criticisms have also been leveled against this ideology because some locals not only in Kenya but across most African continents believe that a socialization of the black people to sports is part of a big conspiracy to limit their opportunities for success in other types of economic pursuits (Mosley, 2010, p. 10).
Sports managers across the globe have been consistently fishing for long distance runners in Africa and offering them an opportunity to be citizens in foreign nationalities because of racial stereotypes associated with certain sports (running).
Kenya is a classic example of such a trend because many of its past runners have been poached into foreign countries to take part in long distance running and compete against their own country (Mosley, 2010). We can therefore see how sports managers are driven by racial prejudice in sourcing for athletes.
Comparatively, we can analyze the huge domination of white athletes in swimming and the domination of Asians in Kenyan Cricket games. Since these two sports are heavily socialized to be “unafrican”, many Kenyan youth do not take part in them.
The level of motivation to indulge in such type of sport is therefore very low and most of the locals do not even take interests in it at all (Mosley, 2010). In the commonwealth games of 2010, a Kenyan of white descent scooped the coveted top price, exposing the level of racial stereotyping in swimming because there were no other black competitors in the sport.
Similarities can also be drawn to the American stereotyping of black basketball players because African Americans are regarded as more fit for the sport than other races. This is the reason why major basketball clubs are characterized by black players.
This ideology has positively influenced many of the African American youth in the states because many strive to excel in basketball and other types of games presumed to be dominated by black players.
This is deeply entrenched even in the neighborhood setting where many of the African American youth look up to successful black basketball players for inspiration. Consequently, many current and future players exhibit a lot of determination in excelling in the sport and surprisingly, many of them succeed.
This does not mean that African Americans are genetically designed to excel in basketball, but because the society has stereotyped them in this manner, many of young future basketball players are socialized to think they have a higher chance for success and therefore put in more effort, dedication and time to do so (Mosley, 2010, p. 15).
This type of stereotype has also discouraged people of other races into practicing the game because they assume basketball is a reserve for African Americans. The result is a cyclical system of racial sport orientation where certain types of sports are associated with certain racial groups.
As much as the racial stereotyping of African Americans and native Africans is deep, there is a difference in the level of stereotyping of athletes in Kenya as compared to African Americans in America. In Kenya, the racial stereotype goes much deeper than racial profiling because cultural affiliation plays a big role in branding athletes.
For example, the predominantly black long distance runners come from one cultural group which is the Nilotic group. These runners also come from an approximate 60-mile radius centering the towns of Eldoret and Nandi hills which is home to the nilotes (Mosley, 2010). It is therefore important to note that as much as Kenya is known for long distance running, not all Kenyan subcultures participate in long distance running.
A certain sub cultural group of the nilotes is therefore known for long distance running and interestingly, other subcultures never take part in the sports because of the cultural stereotype. This fact will be further discussed in the cultural segment of this study. However, the above observation is different from the racial stereotype of basketball players in America because stereotyping does not go much deeper than race.
Gender participation in sports is primarily determined by the level of appropriateness or masculinity of the sport. Feminine sports are therefore viewed as those that generally conform to female expectations in the society while the same is true for male sports because they conform to male expectations in the society.
This fact cannot be overlooked because it almost characterizes the nature of many gender sports across the globe (Costa & Guthrie, 1994, p. 2).
In Kenya, a sport is termed as masculine if it involves wrestling an opponent down, a lot of body contact, or if it has immense projection of body weight onto a given object (Lefebvre, 2002, p. 2). These kinds of sports are perceived as more appropriate to masculine attributes like aggression, power and efficiency.
What is sad is the fact that the society perceives sport as generally masculine and male virtues such as strength power and aggression are highly celebrated at the expense of feminine attributes.
In fact, the mass participation of spectators in sports has been identified by some scholars as a means of weeding out weak participants (Lefebvre, 2002). In contrast, feminine sports are majorly perceived as a means of keeping women healthy because it acts as a form of exercise and not necessarily a means of competition (Lefebvre, 2002).
In the Kenyan context, the situation is no different because male sports are considered to be those that are largely violent, dangerous, involve a lot of team spirit, speed, strength, endurance and masculinity but more notable is the traditional male dominance that exists in the Kenyan society which scares females away if they want to participate in male dominated sports.
It therefore doesn’t come as a surprise that females who dare to take part in male sports often face a lot of opposition and the same is also noted of males who decide to take part in sporting events perceived to be feminine (Lefebvre, 2002, p. 8). This sort of gender stereotype has decreased the level of female participation even in bi-gender sports such as basketball and football.
The level of male participation in certain type of sports such as gymnastics is also very low, showing how gender stereotypes influences gender participation in mainstream sports.
Females are therefore more observed to take part in sports that exemplify their female form such as swimming, gymnastics, tennis and similar sports because they involve graceful, non confrontational movements as opposed to aggressive stunts noted in male sports. The former traits are associated with feminism.
In the American context however, females who dare to participate in male dominated sports such as wrestling, or boxing are branded as “not feminine enough” and therefore they may be mistaken to be lesbians (Lefebvre, 2002, p. 11).
This kind of ideology which exists in the America society has a twofold repercussion because primarily, heterosexual females are highly discouraged from taking part in male dominated sports because of the social stigma that characterizes such kind of a move and also, the fear of being isolated by their peers discourages them as well.
Secondly, females who are truly lesbians may suppress the urge to come out and express their interests as part of the gay community. This situation is not any different for males who wish to take part in sporting events perceived feminine, such as ice-skating, or synchronized swimming competitions (Lefebvre, 2002, p. 13).
In the Kenyan context, males who are willing to take part in female sports such as volleyball or netball are seen as lacking the masculine attribute which makes them superior to females and few males would rather experience such. In this regard, the number of males in Kenya taking part in female-dominated sports is extremely low (East African Community, 2010).
In fact, the number cannot be estimated to those willing to take part in female sports in the American context. This arises out of the fact that not many males are willing to equate themselves to females in any manner. If this societal norm is not observed, the traditional gender hierarchy would be destabilized.
The Kenyan society especially upholds this fact because if they allow females, for example, to take part in male-dominated sports, the age-old belief that men are physiologically superior will be dispelled and most people are not comfortable with such an idea. This kind of ideology is deeply entrenched not only in families but also in sports management.
However, coming back to family, it would not be surprising to see a Kenyan parent discouraging, or even forbidding the daughter from taking part in a male dominated sport. More emphasis is therefore given on letting each gender know his/her place in society.
Moreover, in the Kenyan society, females have their place in society, which is always characterized by motherly roles in addition to possessing qualities like kindness and submission (East African Community, 2010, p. 12). Many sport managers in Kenya interestingly share this belief because they are of the opinion that women should take part in female dominated sports only to sustain their high moral ground.
The same is also observed of men because if they are allowed to take part in female dominated sports, they may become soft and lose their edge, thereby denying the male species the power they need to dominate the society (Lefebvre, 2002).
Also, another existing assumption that prevents bi-gender participation of sports in Kenya is the fact that if females are allowed to compete on the same level with men, they may suffer injuries because of the male aggressive nature. This opinion may be justifiable to some extent.
Interestingly, this belief is also held by many males because they believe that they would not be playing to their full potential if they are allowed to compete with women in the same competitions (Lefebvre, 2002, p. 13).
The American context also holds similar beliefs especially in the way the media portrays gender participation in sports. For example, it was established that the American media aired 70% of male-dominated sporting activity as opposed to women’s 5% (Lefebvre, 2002, p. 13).
In fact, its is evidently clear that the American media airs stories about women sports only if a female has outstandingly outshone a male counterpart, or if there is a funny story, say, a group of nuns playing basketball against a group bikini dressed women. In this manner, we can deduce the fact that the American media shows female sports more for amusement purposes as opposed to female sport admiration (Lefebvre, 2002).
The same gender bias can also be noted in sports management. For example, in gender funding, there is a big disparity between the funding of male sports as opposed to female sports funding. For instance, if a female player comes in to play basketball, we can be assured that there is no way a sports manager would pay her the same way as he would, Kobe Bryant.
In fact, she would not be paid the same way as a bench player, regardless of how well she masters her basketball skills. The same disparities can also be observed through university funding of sporting activities. For example, at the University of New Hampshire, the total male sports funding was 1.7:1 when compared to female sports funding. This is unfair considering male to female participation was 1.4:1 (Lefebvre, 2002, p. 11).
Despite this appalling similarity between Kenyan and American gender role participation, there is a difference between the two countries when analyzed in the same context because in America, women are coming out to stamp their authority in the society while in Kenya, the status quo is still strongly evident.
For example, if an American female outshines a male partner in athletics, all existing theories of female frailty are usually dispelled, but in the Kenyan context, such occurrences may be quickly downplayed. Also, in America, the level of acceptance of female participation in most sporting events is quickly growing and more and more people are quickly being seen to break down the gender wall (Lefebvre, 2002, p. 14).
For example, in a past issue of sports illustrated, female boxing was constantly being advertised and a good number of supporters from across the gender divide came up to support female athletes (Lefebvre, 2002, p. 15). It is therefore important to foster equal gender participation in sports to increase democracy in sports management.
Cultural bias exists among different communities, especially regarding the adoption of sports. Some cultures embrace sport cultures for various reasons and become part of the social fabric while others place less emphasis on it.
In turn, generations become socialized to live according to cultural expectations and therefore perpetrate such systems or stereotypes. It is therefore not surprising to note that some cultures are practically dominant in many types of sports while others are conspicuously absent.
In Kenya, sports has been deeply entrenched as part of the wider goal of embracing the East African Community protocol but its importance goes deep into enhancing social cohesion between communities. Kenya and other East African states such as Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda have acknowledged the importance of sports in enhancing the East African spirit because it brings the locals together.
This is also in accordance to other social initiatives in education, science, social reforms and economic ties which are meant to bring the East African nations closer.
The level of entrenchment of the sport culture in Kenya and the rest of the East African community is however historical and has been reaffirmed over the years through frequent tournaments between various nationals in a variety of games such as soccer (East African Community, 2010, p. 4).
Kenya has therefore realized the importance of undertaking sporting events for the sake of ensuring community survival and social cohesion for the accomplishment of the overall goal of maintaining a stable environment for social, political and economic development.
This attitude has been complimented by the country’s efforts in abiding to UNESCO’s principles of upholding cultural diversity as a strategy to maintain security and also the accommodation of cultural diversity among all ethnic groups. The same principles are also protected by the East African Culture and Sports Council (East African Community, 2010, p. 7).
This cultural entrenchment of sports has made Kenya a home to many athletes in different types of sports. In this manner, the youth have grown up to adopt sports as part of culture and a way of life.
This can be evidenced through the huge emphasis on sports in the Kenyan education system where some of the best sports personalities have been discovered. For example, in the Kenyan rugby team, most of the players have been recruited from some of the best performing rugby schools which have burst into the spotlight because of Kenya’s robust sporting culture.
There is a similarity between the Kenyan and American context of sports and culture because both countries embrace sports as part of their daily lives. For instance, baseball has become very popular in America and is now considered part of the American culture.
However, the sporting culture in America is significantly different from the Kenyan sports culture because In Kenya, sports has been majorly entrenched in the society because of its ability to increase social cohesion and at grass root levels, sports have been used to reconcile warring communities.
On a national level, sports have been used to increase nationalism levels in the East African context. However, in the American society, sports have been entrenched into the society for entertainment reasons.
A lot of cultural, racial and gender differences plague the way sports is managed and influence athlete attitudes altogether. Racial prejudices in sports have been noted to determine how sport managers source and train athletes.
Racial expectations have also stereotyped young people to take part in certain sporting activities, but at the same time, discouraged others from taking part in certain sports. Consequently, various ideologies have developed, assigning certain types of sports to certain racial groups. However, it should be noted that this is just a socialization tool and certain beliefs may not necessarily be true.
Gender has also stuck out to be a strong force in determining gender participation in certain types of sporting activities. For example, Kenya has often-discouraged females from taking part in male dominated sporting activities because of the aggressive nature of male sports and males have equally been discouraged to take part in female dominated sports because of the feminine nature of female sports.
To a far extent, we can deduce the fact that gender participation in sports has been largely affected by gender socialization, not only in Kenya but in America as well.
Lastly, we can observe that culture has a huge role to play in shaping up future athletes. Kenya has adopted a sporting culture just like America, and in turn, many sports personalities have been developed from the integral nature of sports in the society. In other words, many people are motivated to take part in sports even though there may be different reasons for entrenching sports in various societies.
In societies where the sports culture is not properly socialized (like the Asian culture), minimal participation of athletes is likely to be noted. Overall, we can say with surety that racial, cultural and gender influences influence sports management and athlete attitudes.
Bloom, J. & Willard, M. N. (2002) Sports Matters, Race, Recreation, and Culture. New York: University Press.
Costa, M. & Guthrie, S. (1994) Women and Sports: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Champaign: Human Kinetics.
East African Community (2010). The East African Culture and Sports Commission. Web.
Lefebvre, K. (2002). Topoc 2: Gender and Sport. Web.
Mosley, A. (2010). Racial Differences in Sports: What’s Ethics Got To Do With It? Web.