Sport and Politics
February 10, 2003 7:25 AM   Subscribe

The Cricket World Cup is turning into a political mess as England boycott Zimbabwe and New Zealand's players refuse to play in Kenya. Meanwhile, Cricket legend, and Pakistani politician, Imran Khan wonders if UK involvement in a war on Iraq should lead to a sporting boycott of England. We've had sporting sanctions on South Africa, Olympic boycotts in 1980 and 1984 - should we ever mix politics and sport?
posted by brettski (14 comments total)
We should not mix politics and sport. The athletes are never the problem. They are not antagonizing one another over gold, territory, oil, politics [insert reason for conflict here]. Athletes settle their disputes on the field of play, between the lines, then they shake one another's hand and go home. Athletes from rival countries can do MORE to keep a healthy dialogue going by competing against one another than by being used as political pawns by ass-wipe leaders who haven't trained for anything physically difficult in their lives, and therefore can't appreciate the effort that goes into becoming a world class athlete. Remember how Rocky won over Drago's respect in Rocky IV? This man, he is like tank.
posted by vito90 at 7:33 AM on February 10, 2003

For those not following this, one of the reasons that the UK government wanted the team to pull out was that Mugabe is the patron of the Zimbabwe Cricket Board. The English Cricket Board (ECB) complained that they had commercial deals which meant they couldn't just pull out, the Government refused to compensate the ECB, the players then refused to play after receiving death threats, and so the ECB reluctantly asked the ICC (the organisers) to consider moving the game to South Africa on safety grounds, they refused.....
posted by brettski at 7:41 AM on February 10, 2003

Cricket has always had politics ingrained in the sport. It's no wonder that one of the best tournaments in Cricket is the Ashes, that resulted out of the differences between England and Australia. Also India and Pakistan playing cricket against each other is equivalent to going to war. So it's no wonder that they rarely play against each other in the sub-continent, instead they go to Sharjah or Toronto.
Politics has always been a part of cricket, because the cricket audience is very passionate and turn horrendously patriotic come game day. So this in turn gives the cricketers some political clout, also allows for the government to use them as a political weapon.
posted by riffola at 7:58 AM on February 10, 2003

Comparing the CWC and the Olympics from a political perspective is kind of misleading. In the world of sports, music, et al, I say use whatever means necessary to cause reform if it is that urgent. The Olympics should be the exception to the rule. In antiquity, it was intended that regardless of whatever battles were being fought, your weapons were lain aside for a brief time (albeit to be picked up again post-games) to join in the athletic comradery. Alas, we seem to have forgotten this intention today....
posted by lazaruslong at 9:34 AM on February 10, 2003

What's special about the Olympics is that it's awarded to a City NOT to a country. Hence the complaints about the US politicising the Salt Lake City games with the WTC flag.
posted by brettski at 9:56 AM on February 10, 2003

As long as athletes or other sportspeople are presumed to be representing their nation, there will be politicization of sporting events. How can there not be?
posted by normy at 11:45 AM on February 10, 2003

The English are not the only one boycotting or protesting. On the subject, I feel its perfectly appropriate for athletes to express their political point of view, as human beings it's their right and they should express it on any stage they can.
posted by Bag Man at 11:57 AM on February 10, 2003

I agree with Bag Man.

I also think that apartheid South Africa was a bit of a special case, as in order to play there, teams would have had to be selected under 'apartheid rules'.... so even playing in that country would therefore have meant conforming to a system.

Personally, I think that they should also boycott Zimbabwe, as this would be likely to be used as a propaganda tool by the government.... It's not so much that sport should be used as a political tool, but, as with everything in life, there is an ethical and moral dimension.
posted by plep at 1:25 PM on February 10, 2003

Personally, I think that they should also boycott Zimbabwe, as this would be likely to be used as a propaganda tool by the government.... It's not so much that sport should be used as a political tool, but, as with everything in life, there is an ethical and moral dimension.

Absolutely right. Unfortunately, this is a competition being run by the ICC, for the purpose of delivering large TV audiences to the rights holders -- World Sport and Murdoch Group. Morality isn't going to enter into it. Playing in Zimbabwe is unethical, on the same moral level as the various 'cavalier' and rebel rugby tours to apartheid South Africa. Sporting contact implies acceptance, or at least condonement, of the regime in power. When that sporting occasion is being obviously manipulated for political ends by that regime, it becomes even more egregious.

Interestingly, Andrew Flower -- undoubtedly the best cricketer to ever play for Zimbabwe -- wore a black armband symbolising 'the death of democracy' in Zimbabwe during last night's game against Namibia. His international career is probably over as a result.

Personally, I think after all the betting and political scandals, it's One Day Cricket that should be banned. Cricketers should be forced to play timeless tests on uncovered pitches. That would sort the game out in no time.
posted by Sonny Jim at 2:14 PM on February 10, 2003

See, this is part of the "no sport in politics" thing. Athletes continually say "we are not politicians, keep politics out of sport" and then go and do something like "wore a black armband symbolising 'the death of democracy' in Zimbabwe". You cannot have your cake and eat it too - if you want politics to stay out of sport, keep sport out of politics.

I am not saying that sports people should not make political statements, because they sometimes carry as much or more sway with the public than politicians, just make up your mind whether you are going to be involved in politics or not.
posted by dg at 2:58 PM on February 10, 2003

Well, yes, dg -- only the players tend to be pretty much under the thumbs of their employers, national cricket boards, which are in turn in thrall to the ICC, which is almost solely interested in TV coverage and the money it brings in.

Because of the very nature of the arrangement, players are going to find themselves in politically compromising situations. So it's not just a case of making ' up your mind whether you are going to be involved in politics or not'; playing representative cricket means you're involved in politics already. It's hard to imagine there being any viable split between sport and politics here -- international sporting teams are shorthand for the nations they represent, and it's been clear since at least 1936* what a regime with a political point to prove can do to manipulate a sporting event being held locally.

*Please note that I'm not trying to make any facile Mugabe=Hitler comparison here.
posted by Sonny Jim at 6:11 PM on February 10, 2003

True, Sonny Jim, but a player who chooses (no doubt against the wishes of his employer) to make a deliberate political statement using his employer's resources to do so, can not expect to then ask that politics is kept out of sport. Don't get me wrong, though - I applaud the courage that it took to make that statement and respect someone who believes strongly enough in an ideal to throw away his career over it.

It certainly is unfortunate that there are governments who use popular sporting events to further their own political ends and the players tend to end up being the meat in the sandwich. The whole concept of sport bridging all borders has not been seen for a long time and I doubt that it will again.
posted by dg at 6:33 PM on February 10, 2003

Agreed, dg. All you can hope for is that this whole thing will have woken up a few naive players and administrators (and sports fans, for that matter).
posted by Sonny Jim at 6:52 PM on February 10, 2003

The Mugabe government is believed to have used starvation against areas where the opposition is strong.

And would use the Cricket World Cup to send a signal that all is well in Zimbabwe...

... Which is why it is as much a matter of conscience as it is of politics.

Difficult as it is, conscience comes before one's job...
posted by plep at 1:13 AM on February 11, 2003

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