Sport is not inherently political. In simple terms, it’s a mechanism by which we engage in physical activity and feed our competitive instincts, deriving a degree of pleasure in the process. Sport acquires a political role through its prominence- it’s the job of athletes and supporters to leverage that role.
The most immediate example of this leverage is the #TakeAKnee movement rumbling through the NFL, as players and owners protest the National Anthem through either getting down on one knee or standing with arms locked. The protests are having an effect- by dominating news coverage of the NFL, they are broadcasting the problem of racism in the US to a global audience, and ensuring that it is harder for Americans to avoid confronting the problem in their midst. Sport has been politically relevant in the past- it must now be again.
On September 1968, Tom Cartwright- a bowler for the English cricket team- dropped out of a planned tour of South Africa due to injury. In his place, the team called up a South African born Cricketer named Basil D’Olivera- “Dolly.” On the face of it, this would be a simple substitution- a player gets injured, so another is called up at short notice.
However, D’Olivera was mixed race, and had left South Africa to escape Apartheid- the South Africans kicked up a fuss, demanding that he be dropped from the tour. He stayed, and the tour was cancelled. The D’Olivera Affair led to the exclusion of South Africa from International Cricket until the 1990s, with only a few “Rebel tours” going in the face of international protests. The Affair demonstrates how, if sport can be used to make a political point, it can shape the narrative and make a difference- by blocking the tour, the South African regime suffered a public-relations disaster. It became more isolated on the world stage, and showed itself to be more focussed on the colour of a man’s skin than on his sporting skill.
Sport can have a political effect, but should it be political? Yes. Politics dominates our lives- our governments have the power to lock us up, decide our fate, and define our society. It’s our duty as citizens to pressure those governments- if that involves bringing politics onto the pitch, then so be it.
Remember Dolly, watch the NFL, and Take A Knee.