Crio’s Q? – Sport and Politics

Sport can, paradoxically, incite fierce rivalries and act as a unifying agent.

The Asian Cup is an interesting study in the extended message that sporting contests can give.

For those still unconvinced, it underlines Australia’s geographical status. It is helping Australians to recognise our region and, via TV, showcasing parts of our nation to a wider world.

Football, the world game, has the capacity to create a common bond that, in one sense, disregards borders.

Even politics?

North Korea, Saudi Arabia, China…these sides have been welcomed to our shores. Their matches are beamed home from where their citizens must perceive an endorsement from our country of their nation’s status.

Soccer’s not alone with this dilemma. For years cricket took a moral stance against South Africa whilst playing Tests with Pakistan.

These are tricky issues.

Sport as a “political football” – there seems to be a bit of a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” situation.


Anyone want to enter the debate?


  1. G’day Crio, can’t say i know anything about soccer, but the fact that none of the competitors in the Asian Cup are in the FIFA top 50, indicates the world game has some more work to do in this neck of the woods.

    Saudi Arabia, now that’s one nation whose politics we can’t dare discuss openly. Brutal enforcement of archaic laws, home ‘ base’ of alleged terrorists, a place where women are tretaed in a manner that is phenomenally bad, but hey, they’ve got oil, and they’re our friends in the Middle East, so not a word said about them, please.

    Does that sound cynical ?


  2. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    I still rate ‘Invictus’ as my favourite sports movie because it allowed me to get to know Mandela through the lens of sport and form an appreciation for Rugby Union. I lent the movie to Ian Syson over 2 years ago. He still hasn’t seen it! Reckons it might be too idealistic. Maybe, but the essence of uniting a fractured nation through sport at the elite and grass roots level shone through in the narrative and the performances by Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. Would South Africa have hosted the 2010 Soccer World Cup ha d it not been for Mandela’s vision in 1995?

  3. cowshedend says

    Jesse Owens

  4. CSE – your Jesse Owens made me think of Jackie Robinson – the first black Major League Baseballer. How Dodgers Manager Leo Durocher waited years for a black player with the ability to be an on-field star, and the class never to rise to the endless bait and intimidation of white players and crowds.
    Robinson did more for the emancipation of American negroes than anyone but MLK and Lincoln.
    The Robinson example made me think that sport is great for what it embodies and symbolises. When it opens its mouth its the same hollow tin drum as politics and the rest of our petty concerns.
    In sport we can see nobility and striving and artistry without idiots reading the sub-titles for us (unless you watch #9 cricket).

  5. The Gleneagles agreement was the right thing to do at the time and helped turn things to a degree in Sth Africa who are every bit obsessed with sport as we are and probably at least as good at it but I doubt that this would be effective anywhere else these days. Getting all other parties to abide by any agreement is too hard e.g rebel tours that make some people a lot of $$$.
    The time has passed to leverage sport to make political change and maybe welcoming everyone into the “Sporting Family” creates opportunities to exert some influence on other things.

    At least now playing cricket against England isn’t like playing a South African second side, the poms import players from everywhere now they aren’t flooded with Sth Africans who want to play tests.

  6. From my perspective the two are inextricably intertwined and we are kidding ourselves if we think we can separate them. I’m yet to be convinced that countries that don’t allow women to drive or threaten their players with jail should they allow themselves to have pictures taken with women are in any way improved through this sort of engagement.

  7. Crio,

    Peter B, Cowshed and others have already mentioned these instances, so I weigh in carefully.

    Sport is absolutely political. The term “Great White Hope” disgusts me no end, and I’d wager that people who use it have absolutely no idea what they’re saying when they do use it. If you don’t know what it refers to, research Jack Johnson – not the layabout, millionaire hippie surfer-singer, the boxer from ca. 1908.

    See also Jackie Robinson, Baseball Hall of Fame member Cap Anson refusing to play against black pitchers in Major League Baseball (and the so called ‘gentleman’s agreement’ in MLB about not hiring black players. There’s Cassius Clay, and not to mention John Carlos and Tommy Smith on an Olympic podium.

    And if you think that’s just lefty hogwash, you only need to go back to 1978 and read ‘While the World Watched’ about how the Argentine military junta ‘handled’ the World Cup tournament it hosted that year.

    All sport is political.

  8. Sport and Politics are inseperable. We’ve seen this numerous times in my lifetime.

    In the Footy world racism has always been prominent, especailly against indigenous footballers. You can only cringe when remembering comments by people like Collingwoods Alan Mcalister or St Kildas Peter Everitt, though the great work done by players like Adam Goodes and Michael Long, amongst many, have tackled this behaviour.

    The story of sport in Apartheid South Africa has been covered so often we should well know , and recognise the courage of those sports people, and others, who took a stand against that vile regime. The cancellations of cricketing and rugby tours played a key role in solidifying opposition against apartheid.

    Prominent sports people whio played key political roles ranging from Frank Hyett across to Muhamed Ali, not to forget Billie Jean King amongst others have made an impcat in both sporting and political arenas.

    It would be remiss to forget my favourite VFA (VFL) side Port Melbourne. After police fired on striking wharfies in 1928 the club refused to allow any policeman to wear the ‘Burra’ colours for otehr 30 years, finally reqlinqushing in the 1960’s, when police again were able to play for Port Melbourne.

    No Chinese wall seperates politics and sport, they are both part of our reality.


  9. I’d forgotten about this fascinating article from 2012 on the 30th Anniversary of the start of the Falklands War. Recommended.

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