Should sports and politics always mix?
This article aims to give some arguments on the following debate: should sports and politics always mix? Some experts and students in sports diplomacy argue that sports should always play a role in politics. According to them, athletes together with managers and events officials should be aware and raise awareness about human rights abuses or racial/gender discrimination. The main point about this argument is related to the legitimacy given to a city/country that sets up a major competition. In a way, the organization of such big events endorses the current regime and ongoing norms in that place. In the past, many example have shown that countries have mobilized the Olympics in order to gain international recognition, e.g. the Nazis in 1936, when the Games took place in Berlin. More recently, a debate emerged about the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups, which were awarded respectively to Russia and Qatar. Political controversies have also shaken the realm of sports in the last few decades. For instance, some athletes and teams have ignored the situation of apartheid in South Africa and engaged in competitions with all-white South African squads. For instance, an England cricket team, led by Mike Gatting, played the racially-segregated South African national team. Despite intense criticism from activists and politicians alike, Gatting said that sport and politics should not mix and that he had to play cricket in order to earn a living. The comment by Gatting is strongly fought and disapproved by the supporters of the vision that sports and politics should mix. Last year, the supporters of this perspective also deeply criticized the position of Formula 1 decision maker Bernie Ecclestone, who claimed that human rights abuses occuring in Bahrain had nothing to do with the Formula 1 and that he saw no reason to cancel or boycott the Grand Prix, except for security concerns.
On the other hand, one could argue that Western European countries, the U.S., Canada and other pro-Western countries, e.g. Japan and South Korea, are no longer in a position to dictate who has the right to organize a competition and who does not. Indeed, their legitimacy is eroding as new powers emerge in other parts of the world. Following these geopolitical trends, big sports events should definitely move to places outside the “traditional” powers spheres and open themselves to new countries. In other words, new regional leaders in Asia, South America, Africa and the Arab world should and will set up more and more international competitions in the near future. This responds to the political developments mentionned above and the growing influence of those emerging nations. In this regard, sports do not belong solely to democracies, which would bring athletes from all origins together. This would be a very restrictive and exclusive conception. The real power of sports also lies in its ability to gather athletes, officials and peoples in different venues. This diversity enables individuals from all parts of the world to discover new cultures, get to know other peoples, enjoy the show and take part in peaceful events within a peaceful context. At best, it could help to prevent intra- or international tensions and improve prospects for peace in conflicting areas.
So, all in all, what should be done? It clearly seems that a boycott or the interdiction of an event to be held in a country where human rights abuses occur does not lead to an efficient solution. On the contrary, it would provoke further tensions between countries whose relationships are deteriorating. Moreover, many people have been suffering from the oppression of Western countries during the colonial era and one should never forget that the Olympic Games were awarded to Nazi Germany in 1936. While lessons need to be learned and remembered, the nations concerned by human rights violations – including mostly former imperialist countries – should not give too many lessons. Furthermore, emerging powers such as Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa as well as Qatar are investing lots of money and time into sports. This contributes to the development of new technologies, improvement in performance and the general development of the population, thereby giving the right to the most talented athletes to break into sports at the highest level. In turn, it may create a general passion for sports and bring young people together in a peaceful atmosphere. We do believe that sports can improve the situation regarding human rights and equality within international institutions, national federations and regional associations. By promoting these values during the competitions, the governing bodies of sports could have a real influence on society as a whole, especially through the important media coverage of major events. Nevertheless, the margin of change seems really narrow, as most people argue that the world of sports is nothing more than a mirror of the societal attitudes.
Read more on this topic: http://socialjusticefirst.com/2012/04/22/sport-like-music-should-always-play-a-role-in-politics/