Monday, August 4, 2014

Let Sport Be Political

When Dwight Howard tweeted #SavePalestine, he drew in equal amounts plaudits and condemnation from the social media. He soon deleted his tweet, called it accidental, and issued a retraction. Soon enough, #Howardthecoward started trending on Twitter. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t!

A prominent sportsperson, had aired his views on a sensitive political subject, and by issuing a retraction, then failed to stand by them.

Back in 2003, Andy Flower and Henry Olonga, had worn black armbands during a World Cup, mourning the death of democracy in their native Zimbabwe. Not only were they NOT criticized, they were lauded for showing courage against tyranny, and putting their careers on the line.

Two superstars from Zimbabwe had protested in a very visible manner and stood up for something they believed in, prompting discussions on an extremely sensitive issue, even if they couldn’t bring about much change in their country’s fortunes.

When the London Olympics decided not to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Munich massacre of Israeli athletes, Aly Raisman of the United States paid tribute in her own way. Her gymnastics floor routine had a Jewish folk song playing in the background, and her statement saying that she would have “supported and respected” a moment’s silence for slain athletes was considered by many as a slap in the face of the organizers.

Raisman was lauded for her audacity and nerve.

Cristiano Ronaldo, perhaps the most recognizable soccer star of this decade, reportedly donated €1.5 million to ‘children in Gaza’. Though that cannot be viewed as a form of political support for Palestine or protest against Israel, his subsequent refusal to trade jerseys with Israeli soccer stars after a World Cup qualifier in 2013 can certainly be termed as an act of protest.

No official reaction was recorded on the part of FIFA, or the Portuguese Football Federation, although the youtube video of the jersey-swap snub was inundated with comments.

Azizulhasni Awang, a Malaysian Cyclist at the Commonweatlh games in Scotland, recently wore gloves that said ‘Save Gaza’. Awang was adamant that his act was a ‘humanitarian’ statement, instead of a political protest.

Awang was severely reprimanded, and a stern warning was issued that another similar transgression will result in him being suspended.  

The sporting boycott of South Africa during the reprehensible Apartheid years was nothing but a political statement against the country’s racist laws. Nations from across the globe, regardless of racial affiliation, refused to play in, or against teams from, South Africa.

Moeen Ali sported wristbands with the words ‘Save Gaza’ during the third Test of the ongoing England-India Test series.

A day after, the ICC informed Ali that the wirstbands need to go. He might even be fined 50% of his match fee, as a reprimand, though that seems improbable.

The Flower-Olonga protest, the Dwight Howard tweet and his consequent retraction, Awang’s gloves, Raisman’s routine music and consequent statement, Ronaldo’s aversion to the exchange of jerseys, the Apartheid boycott of South Africa, and Moeen Ali’s wristbands are all examples of athletes being political.

Why then, do we condemn some and endorse others? Perhaps it is in human nature to laud such politically motivated sporting protests if we agree with the stand taken, and condemn them if they don’t align with our own sensibilities.

Perhaps these double standards have got something to do with the political affiliations of the nations involved. The United Kingdom, in its foreign policy, and ECB as a sporting body, openly denounce Robert Mugabe’s cruel regime. UK’s stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a little more diplomatic.

As international athletes, celebrities and most importantly, role models to millions of kids, shouldn’t we encourage these political stands? Should we not teach our younger generations that standing up for what you believe in is the right thing to do? Should we not embolden their sense of freedom of speech and expression? Isn’t reprimanding one sportsperson against a ‘Save Gaza’ wristband, and appreciating others for ‘mourning the death of democracy’ sending mixed signals?

Regardless of what our political inclinations may be, let us allow athletes be political (or apolitical if they want to) and set examples that they can be proud of. Let sport be the medium where differences of opinion are not only tolerated, but also encouraged. Athletes endorse politicians and political parties throughout the world; why not let them support a political cause as well! After all, a silent role model is not too much of a role model anyways.

Sport has celebrated its inclusiveness of participants, regardless of race, religion and nationality, as a result of accepting the existence of a problem, and openly discussing it. It is now high time that we afford the same courtesy to opinions, and agree to disagree.

Part of the Flower-Olonga statement in 2003 read: “Although we are just professional cricketers, we do have a conscience and feelings. We believe that if we remain silent that will be taken as a sign that either we do not care or we condone what is happening... We believe that it is important to stand up for what is right.”

Let us allow Moeen Ali to show that he cares! Even if we don’t agree with him. 

This article was first published by The Express Tribune, of the International New York Times, at

No comments:

Post a Comment