ISSN 1652–7224  :::  Published October 19, 2005
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The Subject of Physical Education as a Reflection
of Society

Björn Sandahl
Gymnastik- och idrottshögskolan, Stockholm

The purpose of this article is to compare the Swedish physical education with it’s brethren in a selected few foreign countries during the period of 1962-2002. The comparison is of a tentative character and should be the focus of later, more throughout analysis. This study is limited to five countries except Sweden: Denmark, due to the close cultural relationship with Sweden, Germany because of the cultural influence this nation had on Sweden until the 1940s and England, the home of modern sport. The other two countries has been chosen because of the post-war political climate after world war II: USA and the Soviet union. The impact of the Cold War during the later half of the 20th century can not be underestimated in a comparison like this one.

The result of this study shows that the subjects of analysis can be divided into two blocks. On one side there’s Sweden, Denmark and Germany who show substantial similarities in terms of Physical Education. They all have a history of gymnastics, which, in the mid 20th century, is broken and replaced with sports. On the other side there is England, USA and the Soviet Union were gymnastics never had the same impact and where competitive sport were in much higher regard in the subject Physical Education.

Two main hypothesises can be formulated to explain these results:

  1. How the national sports movement is organised: In Sweden, Denmark and Germany, sports is organised in one, or a few, broad organisations with wide public support. These organisations have hade great influence over the subject and which activities that have been executed. The result: a broad spectre of sports. In the second group these organisations are missing. In England and the USA there is no central organisation of national sport. In the Soviet Union, all sports were controlled by the government. The consequence in all these three cases seems to have been that competitive sport and a few very popular sports were given a major role in the subject of Physical Education. In England and the USA this can be explained by the influence of the major sports, in the Soviet Union by the fact that soviet sport was organised solely for the purpose of achievement on a international level.
  2. The question of ideology: Sweden, Denmark and Germany all share a common history where physical activities during a long time was dominated by gymnastic systems who tried to oppose competitive sport in general. This could explain the lack of such activities in the physical education. England, USA and the Soviet Union do not have this tradition to the same extent. There existed gymnastic systems in all three of these countries but they never had the same influence over the physical activities in the society. Thus the opposition against competitive sports in both society and in the physical education were not significant. This could also explain the development of the subject.

Due to the tentative nature of this stud, no conclusive results can be drawn. This area must be subject to further analysis and comparison before these results can be verified of rejected.

Copyright © Björn Sandahl 2005.  |  Redaktörer Bo Carlsson & Kjell E. Eriksson  |  Ansvarig utgivare Aage Radmann