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Most avocational and occupational subcultures involve acceptable patterns of social behaviour. A sport subculture may differ sufficiently from the mainstream society to be labelled a deviant sport subculture. Some examples include sport environments where hustling, cheating, gambling, institutionalised violence, or deviant social acts take place. Until about the early 1970's, athletes and sport were perceived as models of normative social behaviour. We placed athletes on pedestals and encouraged youth to emulate them. Sport once seemed to be a social institution that was immune to deviant behaviour; this is no longer true. The incidence of deviant behaviour is increasing, and so is the reporting of deviant acts and the study of deviant behaviour by scholars and journalists
Sources of Deviance
Deviant Behaviour is a product of numerous interacting social and cultural forces. These include an inadequate socialisation process; lack of, or failure of social controls; perceived inequities in a situation; the individuals definition of the situation; and the labelling of individuals who engage in deviance. More specifically, one learns deviant behaviour by directly and indirectly acquiring opportunities
It is difficult to study deviance in sports with commonly used theoretical frameworks, especially when athletes are allowed and even encouraged to behave in ways that are prohibited or defined as criminal in other settings.
Much of the behaviour of athletes in contact sports would be classified as a felony assault if it occurred on the streets. For example:
Boxer's would become criminals.
Racing drivers would be arrested, and even banned from driving, for speeding and careless driving.

When serious injuries or deaths occur in sports, criminal charges are not filed, and civil law suits are generally unsuccessful.
Even in non-contact sports, the use of hate as a source of motivation contradicts norms used by most people to guide their behaviour in families, religious congregations, classrooms and work settings.
Extremely compulsive or self destructive behaviour, the use of drugs, ignoring the physical well-being of others to the point of causing injuries, and using the ends (winning) to justify the means (violating the rules), are not so quickly condemned in sports as they are in other activities.

Within sport, deviance involves violating the rules of a game or organisation, going beyond commonly accepted definitions of fair play and sportsmanship, and intentionally using illegal means to intimidate or injure an opponent (Eitzen, 1988).
Much deviance has arisen because of the increased bureaucratization and commercialisation of sport, more rules has resulted in greater pressure to win and earn a profit, and also because league officials are unable or unwilling to penalise all deviant acts.
Dunning (1973) noted the rugby subculture allows its players:
"to behave with impunity in a manner which would bring immediate condemnation and punishment were it to occur among other social strata or even among members of the middle and upper classes in a different social setting."

There are three main approaches into studying deviance in sports:
Absolutist approach - where deviance is either right or wrong.
Relativist approach - where it depends on who makes the rules.
Alternative approach - where deviance is either positive or negative.

Absolutist approach:
When sociologists use certain theoretical framework they define deviance in terms of how actual behaviour compares with a designated norm or ideal, the greater the difference between actual behaviour and the norm, the greater the level of deviance.
The problems with this approach is that definitions of ideals in any social setting often reflect biases related to gender, social class, race, and other factors, or they are based on some arbitrary distinction between right and wrong. Because people have different concepts between right and wrong conceptions in sports, this approach creates considerable confusion; despite this fact, most people still use the approach in their discussions of deviance in sports, and because we don't see eye to eye on the ideals of sports, we don't identify deviance in the same way.
This means that when the behaviours of athletes, coaches, management or spectators do not fit with what these people see as the ideals of sports, those behaviours are identified as deviant.
This is the traditional structural-functionalist approach to deviance, and it has usually been ineffective in producing an understanding of deviant behaviour or formulating programs to control deviance. Part of the reason for this ineffectiveness is that this approach is based on the assumption that existing value systems and rules are absolutely right and that they should be accepted the way they are.

This leads to a "law and order orientation" in which it is believed that the only way to establish social control is through four strategies:
Establishing more rules.
Making rules more strict and inflexible.
Developing a more comprehensive system of detecting and punishing rule violators.
Making everyone aware of the rules and what happens to those who don't follow them.
This approach gives the idea that people who violate rules lack moral character, intelligence, and sanity, and that good, normal, healthy people wouldn't be so foolish as to violate the rules.

Relativist approach:
According to this approach, no behaviour and no person is inherently deviant. Instead, deviance is defined as through a labelling process in which some behaviours are identified as bad, undesirable, or unacceptable on the bases of the rules made by the people in positions of power (J.J.Coakley, 1994).
Those who use this approach assume that all people act in their own interests, and that people in power use their position and influence to make sure that their definitions of good and bad become the official definitions of good and bad in society as a whole.
Therefore the behaviour of people who lack power is labelled as deviant more often than is the case for people with power. To make matters worse, people who lack power don't have the resources to resist being labelled as deviant when their behaviour does not conform to the standard of the rule makers.
The relativists have a problem because their approach leads to the conclusion hat all deviance in sports is simply the result of labelling processes influenced by who has power and who doesn't. They also do not identify any behaviour as objectively deviant. To them nothing is bad or wrong in itself, behaviours such as the use of violence are simply seen as outgrowths of alternative definitions of right or wrong accepted by groups where violence and drug use are seen as positive.
When deviance is defined in this way, efforts to control or change deviant behaviour are dismissed as biased or oppressive.

Relativists therefore emphasise two ways to control deviance in sport:
Change the distribution of power in sport so that athletes are no longer victims of the labelling process used by those wielding power in sports.
Change the political and economic systems that create tendencies among athletes to engage in destructive and dehumanising behaviours when they play sports.
The relativists argue that when social systems become more humane, so will the behaviours of those within the systems. This is why those who use this approach often talk about the need to change society as a whole to control deviance in sports.

An Alternative approach:
Both the relativist and absolutist approaches provide some insight into deviance, but neither is very useful in providing us with an understanding of deviance in sport.
Absolutists define deviance as a failure to conform, and they see the rule violators as disruptive and morally bankrupt.
Relativists define deviance as a behaviour that violates the interests of people with power, and they see the rule violators as exploited victims. One of the main flaws in these approaches is that they both ignore deviance that involves an over-conformity to the rules and regulations.
Our understanding of deviance in sport could be expanded if we assumed that actual behaviour in any setting varies along a continuum in a way that resembles a bell-shaped curve. When this "normal distribution approach" is used, we see that most behaviour falls under a certain degree of acceptance, cases of deviance occur outside this range, where it may be underconformity or overconformity.
Underconformity is a behaviour that doesn't measure up to commonly accepted rules or standards of behaviour, it is behaviour grounded in a rejection or lack of awareness of the rules. Underconforming behaviour is described as negative deviance.
Overconformity is behaviour that goes so far in following commonly accepted rules or standards that it interferes with the well being of self or others; it is behaviour grounded in an uncritical acceptance of the rules.

Overconforming behaviour is described as positive deviance. Positive deviance is still deviance; it is often as disruptive and dangerous as negative deviance.


(Jay.j. Coakley, 1996)
When we use the normal distribution approach to define and study deviance in sports, we are forced to distinguish behaviour showing a lack of concern for, or a rejection of norms and rules, from behaviour showing an uncritical commitment to and over acceptance of norms and rules.

Institutionalised and deviant cheating
Some examples of this type of cheating are intentionally falling in soccer, faking an injury to pressure an official into awarding a foul, or even to get an opponent sent off. These incidents are taught and even encouraged by coaches and fans. Often they are used to test the interpretation of grey areas in the rules or to gain a psychological advantage over an opponent.

Delinquency and sport
Sport has been portrayed as a legitimate part of the high school, college, and community social worlds, in pet because of its alleged deterrent effect on juvenile delinquency.
The relationship seems to be stronger among working-class youth, where delinquency tends to be more prevalent and to involve more serious types of offences. Thus, relative to others in their social world, working class athletes are less involved in criminal offences like vandalism, robbery, and assault.

A study of 15-16 year old athletes found that the higher the level of play, the lower the level of involvement in delinquent behaviour (Seagrave, Hastad, &Moreau, 1985). It could be due to the fact that the coach at higher level of play exerts more social control, such as curfews, and supervised study.


McPherson, B.D.; Curtis, J.E.; and Loy, J.W.; (1989), The Social Significance Of Sport, Human Kinetics Books Illinois.

Coakley, Jay, J. (1994), Sport In Society, Issues And Controversies, Mosby

Heywood, L.; Kew. F.; and Bramham, P. (1995) Understanding Leisure, Thornes.

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