Understanding the Relationship Between Politics and Sport.

But when sport gets political, it can be used to make all sorts of statements and to set examples of values and more.

Sports can really bring people together, especially major sports events such as the World Cup and both the winter and summer Olympics. Sport also attracts a massive diversity of fans, from casual observers to die-hard fans. Of course, the most watched sport in the world is football, but basketball, volleyball and tennis all attract large audiences too.

Politics, on the other hand, has a massive potential to divide. While the UK government grapples with inflation and to solve a punishing cost of living crisis, some other countries are struggling with civil war, political unrest and terrorism. Current affairs can spell bad news for major sporting events, which can become unwillingly entangled in a country’s political issues or conflicts, in general, wider political issues. Below is a look at the relationship between politics and sport, plus examples of this.

Understanding the relationship between sports and politics

For a long time, sport has been more than a mere show of how good a particular nation, city or town’s athletes are. Sports events have been a demonstration of values and also provide a glimpse into how different societies spend their spare time.

Whether people like it or not, sports have also been a historical and cultural aspect of the controversial concept and practice of imperialism. Cricket, which is highly popular in India, came to the country and remained after British sailors brought it to the country. Then there’s the NBA, which comes to China, and the NFL to London and other cities, and exercises a form of soft power as well as connection between cultures.

But when sport gets political, it can be used to make all sorts of statements and to set examples of values and more. Major sporting tournaments provide an ideal opportunity to send out a message while the eyes of the world are on the sporting action and victory podiums.

Asserting dominance

Some political leaders and other powerful people see sporting events as the perfect platform to assert or demonstrate their dominance. One of the most famous examples of politics of this is the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where Hitler hoped to showcase his ideologies and regime (and their superiority) to the world. However, African American sprinter and long jumper Jesse Owens upset the apple cart (and the Führer) by beating German athletes on their home soil and returning to the US with four gold medals.

A chance to protest.

Jesse Owen’s political statement at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, although not explicitly political, isn’t the only that the Games have witnessed. In the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos protested on the podium against the US treatment of Black citizens at the time. In the 200-metre award ceremony, they stood on the first and third place platforms barefoot, bowed their heads while the US national anthem was playing and raised one arm in the air.

Another notable sports personality to have taken a political stance, this time in the boxing world, is the legendary Muhammad Ali. “The Greatest” objected to the Vietnam War and refused to serve in the army, which saw him receive a ban from boxing by US authorities. As well as being a boxer, Ali became a figure of the civil rights movement.

Fast-forward to the Qatar World Cup 2022 (eventually won by Argentina) and football betting fans wagering on teams might have been sweating a little over the fate of certain players or of their teams. Qatar’s stance on same-sex relationships had caused controversy and attracted widespread criticism. England, Wales and five nations had planned to wear the One Love armband at the tournament, but FIFA stepped in and warned players they could be booked for it, so players dropped these plans.

Boycotting and banning nations.

Nations and even tournaments themselves can end up on the receiving end of a ban or boycott. In the first Olympic Games since the Second World War, which took place in 1948 in London, neither Germany nor Japan was allowed to participate.

Jumping to the 1976 Montreal Olympics and several dozen countries, mostly from Africa, boycotted the Olympics because of New Zealand’s permitted participation in the Games. The New Zealand rugby team had toured South Africa, a country which itself had been on the business end of a boycott by the Olympics since 1964 because of its apartheid policies. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) had refused to ban the antipodean country and the Games suffered financially and athletically because of the boycott.

Politics and sport have long been connected. Athletes and their nations see sporting events as a stellar opportunity to make a political statement or raise awareness about political issues, especially injustice, on national and international stages. Whereas sports create opportunities to bring people together, however, politics can generate division.