Nationalism and sport are often intertwined, as sports provide a venue for symbolic competition between nations; sports competition often reflects national conflict, and in fact has often been a tool of diplomacy. The involvement of political goals in sport is seen by some as contrary to the fundamental ethos of sport being carried on for its own sake, for the enjoyment of its participants, but this involvement has been true throughout the history of sport.
The Olympic Games are the premier stage for nationalist competition, and its history reflects the history of political conflict since its inception at the end of the 19th century. The 1936 Summer Olympics held in Berlin was an illustration, perhaps best recognised in retrospect, where an ideology was developing which used the event to strengthen its spread through propaganda. The boycott by the United States and politically aligned nations of the 1980 Summer Olympics and the Soviet Union of the 1984 Summer Olympics were part of the Cold War conflict.
When apartheid was the official policy in South Africa, many sportspeople adopted the conscientious approach that they should not appear in competitive sports there. Some feel this was an effective contribution to the eventual demolition of the policy of apartheid, others feel that it may have prolonged and reinforced its worst effects.
In the history of Ireland, Gaelic sports were clearly carried on with nationalistic overtones: for example, last century a person could have been banned from playing professional Gaelic football, hurley, or other sport, if the person was seen to have played Soccer, or other game which was seen to be of British origin.