Politics in Sports

A deep dive into the tumultous relationship between two of the world's biggest industries

multiple writers
17th June 2022
1983 Muhammad Ali Ronald Reagan- Ronald Reagan Library via Wikimedia Commons
The age-old debate has arisen once more, as to how much of a relationship sports and politics should have, if at all any. 

Slotting through the opener to football, ex-player, now pundit Gary Neville has called on the British government to ‘save football.’ The out-spoken Sky Sports commentator, when talking about the proposed controversial Super League in men’s football, urged the government to introduce legislation to protect the key elements of English football, to stop the wealthiest clubs from taking the beautiful game.  

“They want to maximise their wealth at the expense of football fans.” To be so politically outspoken on the leading UK sports broadcaster has certainly raised eyebrows.  One may argue that Neville is using the platform, broadcasting to millions, to push his political agenda. However, his views are relevant to a serious problem in football. They’re undoubtedly passionate, but never does he stray from the relevance of the topic in his critiques of the government. His Twitter timeline is a free haven though. Neville has reinvigorated the question as to how much of a role politics should have in sport, and sport in politics. 

Steering the conversation away from football and into cycling, one has seen the recent debacle with trans woman, Emily Bridges. Although successfully keeping her testosterone levels below the maximum amount of her industry, the cyclist was punctured on her road to the National Omnium Championship, as the UCI roadblocked her entry on the grounds of her still being registered as a male cyclist. 

Across the pond to swimming, Lia Thomas became the first transgender swimmer to win a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Championship. A social media whirlpool surfaced, condemning the swimmer’s victory as ‘unfair,’ as she won by over two seconds in the 200-yard freestyle race. Arguments for hindering trans people from competing in sports are rife at the moment and governments have been called upon to help quell any discrimination being shown, especially by respective sporting bodies. 

Trans woman and former Olympic athlete Caitlyn Jenner has been very outspoken against trans women competing in women’s sports, claiming that ‘women need protecting.’ Jenner criticised the NCAA for allowing Thomas to compete in the championships and she sits amongst a side of the debate that believes trans women have an unfair advantage over women in sport. 

The divisive social issue is beginning to have a turbulent effect in sports and so the processes and guidelines in respective sports need to be significantly polished in order to swamp arguments and allow trans people to compete in professional sports without qualms.  

Reversing politics in sport to sports in politics, we have seen MP Sarah Atherton endeavour on a ramble about Wrexham before their final at Wembley and proceeded to incorrectly twice call the club ‘Athletic,’ when it is in fact Wrexham Association Football Club. It’s safe to say that idle sports chat should remain out of the House of Commons. 

A cover drive over to India will see the influence that the Board of Cricket Control India (BCCI) has over the entire sport. It is here that one can see the politics that lie within sport.  

The power of Indian viewership leads the BCCI to have significant bargaining power in the world of cricket, as seen with India’s refusal to play bilateral competitions with Pakistan. Indian politicians even called for the cancellation of India’s opener versus Pakistan in the T20 World Cup in 2021, due to terrorist attacks in the disputed Jammu and Kashmir region.  

The overlapping, fluid nature of politics in the world of sport will forever be present, as sport plays a captivating role in the lives of many. To remove political influence in sport would be impossible, but to increase it needlessly would be foolish. Politics’ role in sports should be fluid and move with various sports in accordance with their progression. Using Neville’s opinions, this would however lead to state ownership of football within the next ten years. 

Tom Barlow

The age old debate of how much of a relationship does politics have with the sporting world has arisen many times within the last few years but it has arisen many more times over the last century.

Going straight into the depths of pre-World War II history, when Hitler was rising through the ranks - Berlin hosted the 1936 Olympic Games. At these games was Jesse Owens, a African-American track athlete who competed for America. Owens was the first American athlete to receive four gold medals at one Olympic games.

Though Owens should, and probably, did celebrate these medals - he was snubbed by Adolf Hitler. Hitler walked out of the stadium when Owens received a gold medal as he did not want to acknowledge a "non-Aryan" (including anyone who was not white as well as Jewish people) winning the games.

There were many other moments at the Olympic Games where Hitler walked out when he did not approve of the winner. Allegedly, he only went to congratulate the German "Aryan" winners - who he would shake hands with.

Moving to post-World War II, the trouble takes place in Munich. The 1972 Summer Olympics was held, again, by Germany where eight members of the Palestinian terrorist group, Black September, took nine members of the Israeli Olympic team hostage, after killing two more. Overall, there were 17 deaths (six Israeli coaches, five Israeli athletes, one West German police officer and five Black September members).

Both these events are still being reported on and still have relevance to our lives; the BLM protests at sport fixtures show that attitudes still need to change within the 21st century.

Katie Siddall

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