Thursday, 4 April 2013

The Politics Of Sport: A New Feature

By Shane Thomas

Regarding this blog, there's been a subject that has been pinballing around my mind for a while now. Many look to sport the same way they regard the bulk of Sylvester Stallone's filmography; as escapism. A welcome diversion from the more serious aspects of life. And it's not uncommon for people to opine that sport and politics should never mix.

However, more and more I've realised the fallacy in this statement. Reading the likes of Dave Zirin and Jessica Luther have helped sharpen this into focus. Because sport doesn't exist in a vacuum, and while many eschew acknowledging the intersectionality of sport and politics, that doesn't prevent it from existing. When this tree falls in the forest, it makes a sound, whether you're there to watch it or not.

As Zirin has expatiated in the past, you can't tell the story of civil rights without mentioning the likes of Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali, or LGBTQ and women's issues (which are distinct) if you omit Billie Jean King & Martina Navratilova. Personally, I'd add to that issues of disability, as you can't talk about that fully without putting Tanni Grey-Thompson, and yes... even Oscar Pistorius, under the spotlight.

You think sport and politics don't mix? Try telling that to the West Indian cricket team of the 1980's, or the present-day Afghanistan cricket team. Try telling Cathy Freeman what she did in the 2000 Sydney Olympics didn't have wider significance. The South Africans who won the Rugby World Cup in 1995 caused ripples that went beyond the rugby field. Countries didn't boycott that same nation during its policy of apartheid because they disliked its climate.

So you can't be against politics intruding in sport, yet bask in the glow of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Brunei sending women to the Olympics for the first time at London 2012. Not to mention to the cognitive dissonance in feeling smug about British football being ahead of the curve on racism*, yet in the next breath saying that sport and politics should remain separate.

This doesn't mean that there will be a complete change of tack on this blog. There will still be plenty of posts that focus on one's athletic achievement, rather than its wider social impact. But it's negligent to ignore those occasions when sport and politics are indivisible. As well as being simply obtuse and irresponsible.

So then, the politics of sport. Let's begin. We'll start here...

* - For the record, I think British football would be wise to pipe down as regards issues of racism in its game. Especially, as for many, the topic of race only centres around black people, rather than all ethnic minorities.

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