‘The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity' (The International Olympic Committee, 2007). In reality, the Olympic Games are an international multi-sport event, which give nations a chance to show their power through sports and give people a chance to feel proud of their nation. Do the Olympic Games influence a lay person's perception of foreigners? Do they increase or decrease the competitiveness of lay people towards foreigners and thus have implications for international peace?
The present study investigated whether and how the Beijing Olympic Games influenced lay Chinese people's competitiveness versus cooperativeness towards foreigners. Specifically, we conducted a longitudinal study at three time points (wave 1—3 months before the Olympic games, wave 2—2 weeks after the Olympic games, and wave 3—3 months after the Olympic games) to track a sample of Chinese college students' perceptions of people from several target foreign countries. We chose five target nations—USA, Russia, Japan, South Korea and Kenya. As USA and Russia are potential comparison counterparts of China in the world, and Japan and South Korea are potential competitors with China in Asia, these nations were chosen as the likely targets of comparison for China. Although Kenya is not seen as a competitor of China, the excellent performances of Kenyans in middle and long distance races could render Kenya a potential competitor specifically during the Olympics. (In fact, these claims received empirical support from a post-experimental study, see below, on Beijing Chinese's perceptions of the five target nations.)
In the Games, as representatives of their nations, athletes compete with each other in various sporting events. Their performance is evaluated by medals, and the medal counts are tabulated by nations. Therefore, from the perspective of intergroup behaviour, the Olympic Games are an intergroup interaction in which many nation groups compare and compete in sports. For this reason, the Games are also intergroup comparisons—comparisons between nations—by means of international competition in sports. In fact, national comparison is a significant and important feature of the Games. Evidence indicates that merely the presence of the symbols of an outgroup is sufficient to arouse awareness of ingroup identity (Wilder & Shapiro, 1984). When group identity is salient, individuals engage in intergroup comparisons (Kawagami & Dion, 1995). The presence of many outgroups (foreign countries) in the Olympic Games is sufficient to make people's national identities become salient. People may be more likely to engage in national comparisons at the time of the Olympic Games. Festinger (1954) indicated that social comparisons should not lead to performance matching but rather to competition. Munkes and Diehl (2003) also found that intergroup comparison can lead to intergroup competition. Thus, the Beijing Olympic Games may highlight national comparisons and, in turn, national comparisons during the Beijing Games may highlight competition between nations. That is, the Olympics may make it legitimate to display a competitive tendency towards nations that are competitive with one's own nation. The Beijing Games could therefore intensify people's competitive behaviours (or reduce people's cooperative behaviours) towards competing nations, especially towards the relevant comparison nations.
In an intergroup situation, people compare themselves with relevant outgroups (Brewer & Brown, 1998). USA and Russia are potential competitors with China in the world, Japan and South Korea are potential competitors with China in Asia. They could be regarded as the relevant comparison targets for China. Kenya is not a competitor of China, but because the performance of Kenyans in middle and long distance races is always impressive, Kenya may also be considered to be a relevant comparison target for China.
Hypothesis 1: We predicted that the Beijing Olympic Games would increase Chinese competitiveness towards foreigners, especially towards foreigners who are from the comparative target nations. We expected that Chinese competitiveness towards these foreigners would be higher shortly after the Games (wave 2) than before the Games (wave 1) or 3 months after the Games (wave 3).
China, Japan, and South Korea are all nations in East Asia. They are geographically close to each other and have cultural similarities and greater contact with each other in daily life than with other nations. They are also potential competitors with each other. As a result, Japan and South Korea might be more salient nation groups for China. Salient information or concepts have more influence on subsequent judgments or decisions (e.g. Beckett & Park, 1995; Hamilton, Fallot, & Hautaluoma, 1978). Salient outgroups are therefore more likely to be regarded as comparison targets by ingroups. For that reason, Japan and South Korea can possibly be seen as the most relevant comparison targets for China. We found empirical support for this assumption in a post-experimental study shown below. The Beijing Olympic Games may highlight national comparisons as well as the competitiveness between China, Japan and South Korea. The effects of the Olympics on competitiveness toward foreigners might be more significantly seen on Japanese and South Koreans.
Hypothesis 2: We predicted that the effect stated in Hypothesis 1 should be more pronounced for Japanese and South Korean targets than for the remaining targets.
The Olympic Games are national comparisons by means of sports. Intergroup comparisons maximize intergroup differences, minimize intragroup differences and heighten the salience of a group (nation)'s social identity (Turner, 1985, 1987). A salient group identity affects the content of self-categorizations and improves group identification (Haslam, Oakes, Reynolds, & Turner, 1999). Thus, the Olympic Games may improve nation identification and influence people's national attitudes—nationalism and patriotism. Nationalism refers to the view that one's own nation is superior and should be dominant, and patriotism refers to feelings of attachment to one's own nation (Kosterman & Feshbach, 1989). Nationalism and patriotism may best be viewed as representing different manifestations of national identification (e.g. Blank & Schmidt, 2003; Kosterman & Feshbach, 1989; Mummendey, Klink, & Brown, 2001; Schatz & Staub, 1997). Indeed, studies have shown that the Olympic Games stimulate both nationalism and patriotism (e.g. Billings & Eastman, 2003; Murata et al., 2006). Murata et al. (2006) found that the level of nationalism and patriotism of the Japanese after the Athens Olympic Games was significantly higher than before the Games.
However, nationalism, a dominance-based ideology that emphasizes a sense of international superiority, tends to be related to intolerance of diversity, ethnocentrism, anti-egalitarian values, and prejudice (e.g. Butz, Plant, & Doerr, 2007; Li & Brewer, 2004; Sidanius, Feshbach, Levin, & Pratto, 1997) as well as to a conflict strategy towards outgroups or outgroup members (Dittloff & Harris, 1996). Nationalists are more inclined to make national comparisons because superiority is the core of nationalism (Viki & Calitri, 2008). Recent studies also suggest that nationalism shows a reliable relationship only with outgroup rejection in intergroup comparisons (Mummendey et al., 2001).
Therefore, nationalism may play a role in the effects of the Games on Chinese competitiveness towards foreigners, especially in the form of competitiveness towards the nations that are the most relevant comparison targets (i.e. Japan and South Korea) for China.
Hypothesis 3: We expected that nationalism predicted competitiveness towards foreigners, particularly towards Japanese and South Korean targets in wave 2 but not in waves 1 and 3.
In contrast, some research has argued that both nationalism and patriotism play a central role in the tensions and conflicts between groups that are currently taking place all over the world (Karasawa, 2002). However, attachment to one's ingroup does not necessarily require hostility towards outgroups (Allport, 1954; Brewer, 1979, 1999). Patriotism is a positive attitude towards one's nation group without negative feelings. Blank and Schmidt (2003) found that patriotism was negatively related to outgroup devaluation. Patriotic individuals tend to select or have an orientation towards non-intergroup comparisons (Viki & Calitri, 2008). Although the Beijing Olympics probably increased the level of patriotism, the resulting high level of patriotism may not predict that people will choose a conflict strategy in intergroup interactions.
Hypothesis 4: Because ingroup love does not necessarily imply outgroup hate, patriotism would not predict competitiveness towards foreigners in any of the waves (or subsequent waves).