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Poltics and sport

This morning my subject du jour is “Sport and politics don’t mix – discuss”.

Like all juicy issues, this one has a number of thorny complications and I intend to begin with the most basic because – my hunch is –  a consensus may not be as hard to establish upon it as some might think.

Most would agree, of course, that generally-speaking, sport and politics shouldn’t mix but that’s avoiding the elephant in the corner of the room, viz. the absolute point of fundamental principle when it comes to how humanity exists and in practice “works”.

At which point – if any – ought sport and politics to mix?

Indeed, at which point – if any – should they?

Some might argue never.

However, let’s just list some of the occasions in history when it did.

The infamous Berlin Olympics of 1936, at which Hitler attempted to hi-jack the Olympic movement in the cause of promoting the self-aggrandisement of his Nazi regime, the supposed supremacy of the Aryan race and whatever-else-he-had-in-his crazed-mind at the time.

We all know that this somewhat back-fired – cue a reference to the legendary black athlete Jesse Owens’ four gold medals [100 metres, 200 metres, long jump and 4 x 100 metres relay] – but at least the GB football team refused to obey an official instruction to make a Nazi salute, unlike the professional England team that played Germany in Berlin in 1938, as it happens winning 6-3, but which in the process obeyed (perhaps to later shame all round at home) a similar command.

Tommy Smith and John Carlos making their “black glove-raised” stand at the medal ceremony for the men’s 200 metres at the 1968 Mexico Olympics.

The half-cock USA-led boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics over the Soviet/Afghan War which resulted in only 80 nations attending – 66 nations boycotting the Games entirely.

This, of course, was the Olympics at which a reduced-size GB team (under the banner of the British Olympic Association) competed in defiance of the Government’s wishes and Alan Wells, Steve Ovett, Sebastian Coe, Daly Thompson and Duncan Goodhew all won gold medals.

The debacle of the eventually-cancelled 1968-1969 England (or rather MCC) cricket tour of South Africa – also known as “The Basil D’Oliveira Affair” – over the issue of apartheid and the initial non-selection of the Worcestershire and England all-rounder with Cape Coloured origins.

By chance the MCC later “grew a pair” and officially picked “Dolly” for the squad when Tom Cartwright had to withdraw from the tour party due to injury, in reaction to which South Africa withdrew the invitation to tour.

I could go on, but here leave Rusters to add their own selection of additional examples … save, perhaps now to mention the decision of Wimbledon to exclude Russian and Belarusian tennis players from its tournament this summer, beginning in a month’s time.

This has provoked a wide variety of reactions from within the world tennis community and beyond.

As I currently review the spectrum, there are tennis players who, facing the loss of ranking points (or perhaps that should be “the loss of opportunity to defend their ranking points”) – vital to their standing in the world (and therefore their income etc.) – are going to “miss” Wimbledon this year, either because they’re Russian/Belarusian or because they’re “coming out” in solidarity with players from those countries, whom – they feel – are being unfairly penalised by the Wimbledon authorities because of the action of their country’s government(s).

See here for an example of the opposing views, a clash on Eurosport between John McEnroe and Tim Henman – courtesy of – YOUTUBE

It seems to me this is a perfect example of the clash between those who hold that “sport and politics shouldn’t mix” and those of a different view, i.e. that (sadly but perhaps inevitably) sometimes such things are unavoidable and “politics and sport do have to mix”.

Maybe the key question that everyone involved in elite world sport has to ask themselves is “Okay – at what point (if any) do you feel that it becomes necessary to take a political stance upon a sporting matter – or vice versa – whether that be a boycott of a tournament or Olympic Games … or just simply a matter of lost ranking points (or cash) that are being potentially suffered if athletes or players are excluded because of the policies of their countries/ governments …?

[Answers please on the proverbial postcard to the usual address …]

For me – someone considers himself ordinarily a non-political person 95% of the time – if Wimbledon wants to exclude Russian and Belarusian tennis players from its 2022 tournament, then I’m relaxed.

It’s Wimbledon, for God’s sake!

And if Djokovic, John McEnroe or indeed A.N. Other “all time great” wants to criticise Wimbledon … or even decides to boycott Wimbledon in protest at its decision … let ‘em.

At the end of the day, even the most highly-paid (obscenely-paid?) sports people are rarely remembered for how much money they won in their career.

The true mark of how you did in your sports career is how many titles you won, not whether you won one or more of those in years when half the best players in the world were missing from the draw.

[And, whenever one take time to look back over sporting history generally – whom the hell were all those players who didn’t play in the tournament than someone supposedly won in a “lean” year, anyway?] …



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About Tom Hollingworth

Tom Hollingsworth is a former deputy sports editor of the Daily Express. For many years he worked in a sports agency, representing mainly football players and motor racing drivers. Tom holds a private pilot’s licence and flying is his principal recreation. More Posts