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Is it impossible to keep politics out of sport?

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Is it impossible to keep politics out of sport? Empty Is it impossible to keep politics out of sport?

Post by Ivan Fri Sep 06, 2013 11:20 pm

The historian G.M.Trevelyan argued that cricket prevented England from having a revolution. He claimed that the French aristocracy would not have had their châteaux burned by the peasantry in 1789 if the French had played the game.
I’m not sure that I buy that. I think the French Revolution started because the price of bread in Paris had increased by 50% in two years. However, there have been plenty of people on the left who think that sport, football in particular, is the opium of the masses. The Independent Labour Party (ILP) dismissed soccer, as it was called in the 19th century, deeming it a “debasing spectacle”. One ILP member, a certain George Orwell, argued that “serious sport is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting”. In his book ‘Sport in Capitalist Society’, Tony Collins recounts how the early British socialist movement poured scorn on the professionalisation of football and rugby, while the Russian writer Maxim Gorky said that “bourgeois sport has a single clearcut purpose, to make men even more stupid than they are”.
People on the right, most notably Margaret Thatcher, have also had their dislike of sport. She hated football in particular; Ken Clarke says that Thatcher considered football fans, like the miners, to be “the enemy within”. Perhaps that was symptomatic of her own – and more generally the right’s – disdain for popular culture. However, prior to 1980, the maxim of the right was to “keep politics out of sport”. That suited apologists for apartheid, who thought that we should mind our own business if South Africa wanted to exclude black players from their international rugby and cricket teams. Then, following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Thatcher broke the golden rule by calling for a British boycott of the Moscow Olympics.
Politicians, and even terrorists, have always been ready to use sport to their advantage. One of the most notorious examples was Hitler’s use of the 1936 Berlin Olympics to promote his ideological belief of Aryan racial supremacy. Germany did top the medals table, but Hitler’s assertions were blown to pieces by the black American athlete Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals. Palestinian gunmen took advantage of the Munich Olympics of 1972 to murder eleven members of the Israeli team. After numerous Western states had boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics, the Soviet bloc stayed away from the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics in retaliation.
The usual way in which politicians use sport is to try to associate themselves with successful tournaments, teams and individuals. I’m sure everyone noticed the sickening haste with which Andy Murray was whisked round to Downing Street for a photo with Cameron after winning Wimbledon. A desperate John Major no doubt hoped that when Euro 96 was held in England, the home team would do well and some of the glory might rub off on him, but England was knocked out in the semi-finals. The Olympics of that year were an even bigger disappointment, with Britain winning only one gold and having its worst medals haul since 1952, possibly due to the lack of investment in sport and the dividend from about 10,000 school playing fields being sold under the Tories between 1979 and 1997.
It was Tony Blair and Ken Livingstone who, in 2005, successfully bid for the Olympics to be held in London in 2012, but David Cameron and Boris Johnson who basked in the glory. Meanwhile, Michael Gove has been accused of jeopardising Britain’s Olympic legacy by allowing schools to sell off 50 playing fields over the past three years, making a mockery of a pledge to protect them in the coalition agreement.
A few years ago, I wrote to the journalist A.A.Gill (but never received a reply) after he started an article with the preposterous assertion that Harold Wilson had boasted that the England football team’s World Cup victory in 1966 created a national ‘feelgood factor’ which helped him to win the general election of that year. Wilson never said any such thing, no doubt because the election was on 31 March and the World Cup Final was on 30 July.
However, Wilson did believe that England’s shock exit from the World Cup in 1970 (losing 3-2 to West Germany, after being 2-0 ahead just 22 minutes from the end) contributed to his own surprise general election defeat four days later. When Labour ministers Denis Howell and Roy Jenkins held a massed factory-gate meeting in Birmingham on the day after the match, no questions were asked about trade figures or immigration, but solely whether Alf Ramsey (the England manager) or Peter Bonetti (the England goalkeeper) was the major culprit in the defeat. Labour had been well ahead in the polls until the World Cup exit, but I think there were two other important factors in the Tory victory in 1970. One was that Edward Heath promised “to cut price increases at a stroke” (which turned out to be a sick joke), and the other was that Enoch Powell (who had made his notorious ‘rivers of blood’ speech two years earlier) encouraged racist bigots to support the Tories.
Some people involved in sport have also made the news because of their political views. When Bill Shankly was manager of Liverpool, his socialism was fundamental and integral to every aspect of his life and work. It was about equality, on and off the pitch, and working for the people and the supporters of Liverpool, communal work for communal success. The former England cricket captain Andrew Strauss is a fund raiser for the Tories. The new Sunderland manager, Paolo Di Canio, attended the funeral of an Italian fascist who had been in jail for his part in a terrorist bombing which killed 85 people. Di Canio’s appointment caused the former foreign secretary, David Miliband, to resign his executive roles at the club.
The language used by politicians – and sometimes by all of us – often has sporting connotations. They talk of “front runners”, “game changers”, “knock-out punches”, “punching above your weight”, “a level playing field”, “getting the boot”, “playing the man not the ball”, “took his eye off the ball”, “hit for six”, “sticky wicket” – I’m sure you can all think of other such phrases. When Geoffrey Howe resigned from Thatcher’s government in 1990 -  a move which triggered her demise just three weeks later - his criticism was couched in cricketing terms, accusing her of "sending your opening batsmen to the crease only for them to find the moment the first balls are bowled, their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain”.
It’s been claimed that because sport was used to isolate South Africa for over twenty years, apartheid collapsed. (I think it’s more realistic to suggest that economic sanctions had a greater impact.) International sport has often been seen as a substitute for conflict - as Orwell said, “war minus the shooting”. At best, sport can stir up patriotism (love of one’s country), but at worst it can result in a display of nationalism (the belief that your country is better than all others). So is it impossible to keep politics out of sport?
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Is it impossible to keep politics out of sport? Empty Re: Is it impossible to keep politics out of sport?

Post by oftenwrong Sat Sep 07, 2013 4:23 pm

Almost any International Sporting event is Politics by other means.
But it certainly beats nerve-gas or Drone bombers for choice.

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