Sunday, 10 August 2008

Politics and Sport

Earlier, in the Olympics, a pair of Georgian and Russian competitors who managed gold and silver embraced, saying that sport and politics ought to be kept separate. I appreiciate the friendliness of the gesture, but the message is utter nonsense.

It's one we've been asked to put up with quite a lot in recent months. First, the International Cricket Council voted to retain Zimbabwe as a full member despite the evils being perpetrated in that country, on the basis that politics and sport should be separate. Then the IOC took to chanting it every time China's human rights record was mentioned.

The problem is that they are inextriacably linked. I'm reminded of the advert that ran in the UK a while ago encouraging people to vote. It featured a man down a pub who said that he didn't 'do' politics, and didn't want to discuss it. He then found that almost everything he said connected to it somehow.

The link between sport and politics is overt. Sport between two countries is usually seen as a way of showing that they get on. Indeed, in the ancient Greek Olympics, a general truce between the competing Greek states was supposed to apply for the duration of the event. China, meanwhile, apparrently hopes to use this Olympics to mark its 'coming out' as one of the most important forces on the world stage, while showing the world just how lovely it is. That sounds remarkably like political significance to me.

Now, I'm not proposing that any kind of boycott of the Games should have occurred. I don't think that would have been fair to the atheletes, and if a clean human rights record were a pre-requisite of holding the things we might have a problem finding somewhere to have them. Luxembourg possibly. Zimbabwe is a different matter. The sheer scale of the abuses in that collapsing state make it ludicrous that any kind of contact should be maintained, let alone sporting contact. That such contact has been maintained is a testiment to the internal politics of the ICC, and the hypocracy of governments (especially the UK one) who condemn the sporting contact while allowing businesses to continue trading there.

Most importantly, I think is that we owe it to our own intelligence to maintain an awareness of the political consequences of actions like these, and to avoid the phrase 'politics and sport shouldn't mix' wherever possible.


Stephanie said...

This is an issue that's been on my mind a lot lately, and one I struggled with posting about myself but couldn't quite work through all of the complex issues. I completely agree with you, and I think you expressed the balance between politics and sports very well. Thanks for finding a way to say what I couldn't quite capture.

stu said...

I suspect this owes something to my tendency to get monumentally grumpy about things.

Sven said...

Good post Stu, well put.

I think it all goes back to people's desire to pretend like nothing bad is going on. Politics and sports are great when it's friendly banter between two candidates. But when it forces you to confront something bad is going on and you're probably not doing anything about it? Then everyone starts bending over backwards to not point out the 500lb gorilla in the room and hushing anyone who does.

It's like one of my family reunions.

I just pray that this never comes about as a result of sports and politics.