Politics and sports are like chalk and cheese and must never mix, sports which is pure and true must never be tainted by association with politics. That is the line held by all major sporting governing bodies such as Fifa and the IOC, but try as they might politics has and will always find its way into the sphere of sports, just as a rat finds its way to a meal.
Political action and agitation through sports is not a new concept as I am sure we all know. We have all grown up with tales of Jessie Owens at Berlin 36 putting a damper on what was then the largest attempt at the melding of the political and sporting, just as we all live with stories of Mexico City 68 and the strength and solidarity shown in the clenched fist on the winners podium. But those events as political as they were, and as condemned as they were were far from isolated then and is going on still.
We see this in the first two Italian victories at the World Cup where in order to show off the impressiveness and superiority of fascism the referees and oposition were routinely threatened or bribed as the Italians copped the jueles remmet consecutively. We then have the last massive post war extravaganza which is Berlin 36 where even Mr Owens own getting on the Olympics team was a fight against the American political machinery (Jessie won by the way), a black man representing a country where it’s very leagues were segregated, where the best teams (financially speaking anyway) were exclusively white and where blacks were just treated like inferiors, his rise to the top to shatter Hitler’s dreams was born of race politics but is seldom mentioned.
Mexico City 68 is also shrouded in more politics than we care to admit. Everyone knows the story of how they got on the podium and even how they got the gloves that represent so much, but few recall the dictatorship then in power in Mexico mowing down people with bullets as they protested prior to and on the opening day. Few recall the cavern separating the haves from the have nots in Mexico, how the poor tended to be majority brown, how the middle class became agitated and how the dictatorship could not afford to have its image tarnished.
Argentina 78 we see more politics merging with sports. The junta was pretty embedded and the dirty war was in full swing and the world cup was in town. From the mini riots in the streets when a young diego maradona was left out to the questionable win over the much fancied Peruvians we witness a sporting event laced with politics.
Moscow 80 was the same thing, the socialist world showing off a ‘workers paradise’ and the political west led by the US boycotted the event (the Afghan intervention being the premise for the boycott) and the Olympics in Barcelona in 92 were all about white washing a fascists past. We see this still in Sochi which was to be used to herald a new vibrant russia.
However politics in sports runs through many channels and avenues. Take for example rugby, if one plays league one is usually a northern englishman who votes labour, while if you play union you are usually a southerner who votes tory with a high chance that you are an OXBRIDGE graduate.
We see lord Coe who is an ex tory mp running the IAAF, locally we have mp’s and councilors who lead football clubs and who use it by extension to cement there parochial base.
Sports in politics will always be an issue, but politics will always find its way into sports, and not because politics it better or that politicians are clever. No, it will always be there because it like sports encompasses humanities hopes dreams and aspirations, not to mention the fact that a captive audience is more receptive to ideas and propaganda.