Sport and Politics Do Not Mix
The first time I ever heard this phrase, would have been as a ten year old watching the 6pm news on South African state controlled SABC television in 1981. The context was of course the 1981 Springbok tour of New Zealand.
In a society where the narrative was controlled by the state it was natural for my, and other, generations to believe what they were being told. After all, we heard it from adults, from our school system, from the media, and from our peers. Some still choose to believe this because after all, everything was better back in the good old days.
It was remarkable in itself that the South African media even acknowledged the issues on the tour as it was a very visible rebuke of the government and its policies. For a lot of South Africans this would have been the first time they asked any questions about the government and the apartheid system. Of course we all know the history now – the protests in NZ forced NZRU to change its stance regarding competing against South Africa, and there was no official tour of SA by the All Blacks until the fall of apartheid.
The “sports and politics do not mix” phrase has been reiterated in recent times, most recently in NZ with the Black Caps decision to take a knee in solidarity with the West Indies cricket team to highlight racial injustice. A few “fans” took to social media to express their dismay at the gesture, with some stating that they would no longer be supporting the Black Caps – though I believe most of these would be the same people expressing outrage at the NZ Cricket move to the Spark Sport platform along with the same threats.
You should consider a couple of minutes of self-reflection if you decide to use a phrase championed by an apartheid government in your response to sportspeople expressing a political thought or opinion. Whilst you don’t have to agree with everything the sports person says or does they should be free to express that thought. Especially in the modern sports world where they are media trained to never say anything other than the standard cliches which offer absolutely nothing of value and more often than not are barely intelligible – “learnings” anyone?
It is short-sighted to believe that sport and politics do not mix when history clearly proves otherwise, just like we can’t imagine an English Premier League game today with no bets made at some of the UK online casinos. From the Ancient Olympics which were used by the city-states to exert dominance over their rivals; to modern Olympics where Nazi Germany tried to showcase their superiority over the rest of the world only to have Jesse Owens make all the headlines. From South African rugby and cricket not allowing non-Europeans to play against them, ironic given their call not to have sport and politics mix in 1981, to governments enforcing sporting boycotts of Olympic games and countries such as South Africa. From securing hosting rights for a football, cricket, or rugby World Cup, to funding the America’s Cup.
Governments have, and will continue to, use sport to further their agenda. It is an advertisement for their countries, their infrastructure, their abilities. It is why we see leaders at games celebrating alongside the players as though they personally scored the winning try. It is why politicians are happy to display their sporting allegiances and credentials.
It is important that sport highlights these things thereby ensuring that, like a ten year old me, youngsters will begin to question what they are seeing and not just asking for parents to shell out for the latest sports drink advertised by their heroes.
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