By Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw
Is sport above politics?
Can they be separated?
Recent events have shown otherwise.
For example, the Russian invasion in Ukraine has spawned what can only be described as a political response, by the banning by FIFA and UEFA of football teams from Russia and Belarus from their competitions until further notice. Although the bans were appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), they have recently been upheld by the CAS on the grounds that they were necessary for “the secure and orderly conduct of football events for the rest of the world.”
And according to Nick de Marco, QC, a leading sports lawyer:
“One of the oldest (and perhaps silliest) shibboleths in sport has been that it is not political, and sports’ bodies have routinely imposed rules banning political expression. But not for the first time, major political events have exposed the fallacy that sport is not (or should not be) political.”
“The origin of what we now call “sport” is firmly rooted in politics and society…..The Ancient Greek Olympic Games reflected in sport the political and military competition between the various city-states and Kingdoms of Ancient Greece.”
In a recent most interesting and well-researched article, entitled ‘Sport and Politics’, he goes on to state that:
“Another most obvious political dimension to sport, especially international sport, is that many of its rules depend upon organised discrimination. Nearly all international sports are organised on the basis of athletes or teams competing on behalf of nation-states. There are strict eligibility rules that provide a person (or a minimum number of persons) must be citizens of the state to be eligible to compete. Discrimination on grounds of nationality is not only permitted, it is most often an essential requirement.”
In his article, he advances other arguments and cites other examples of political expression and gestures through sport and sports events, including the legal requirements for the takeover of Newcastle United FC by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund and the war in Ukraine. The latter, he argues, has “perhaps finally” exploded the myth that sport is not political:
“Not only has the displaying of the Ukraine flag at football matches been sanctioned by competitions, but sports throughout the world have taken the decisions to exclude Russia or Russian nationals from competing.”
He concludes as follows:
“For the sake of rationality, consistency and honesty, sport ought to accept that it is, and always has been, political.”
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