Politics And Sports Essay Introduction

Politics and sports or sports diplomacy describes the use of sport as a means to influence diplomatic, social, and political relations. Sports diplomacy may transcend cultural differences and bring people together.

The use of sports and politics has had both positive and negative implications over history. Sports competitions or activities have had the intention to bring about change in certain cases. Nationalistic fervour is sometimes linked to victories or losses to some sport on sports fields.[1]

While the Olympics is often the biggest political example of using sports for diplomatic means, cricket and association football, as well as other sports in the global arena, have also been used in this regard. In the case of Apartheid, sport was used to isolate South Africa and bring about a major overhaul in the country's social structure. While ethnicity and race can cause division, sports can also help blend differences.[2]

Additionally, numerous athletes have sought political office, some of them unsuccessfully, on either the national level or the sub-national level.



See also: Association football and politics

The most infamous declaration of politics and sport was the Football War between El Salvador and Honduras. Though the build-up to the war had to do with more socio-economic issues like immigration and land reform, the impetus for war was an inflammation of tensions set off by rioters during the second North American qualifying round for the 1970 FIFA World Cup. Disturbances broke out during the first game in Tegucigalpa, but the second leg saw the situation get considerably worse in San Salvador. Honduran fans were roughed up, the Honduran flag and national anthem were insulted, and the emotions of both nations became considerably agitated. In retaliation, violence against Salvadoran residents in Honduras, including several Vice Consuls, increased. An unknown number of Salvadorans were killed or brutalized, and tens of thousands began fleeing the country. The press of both nations contributed to a growing climate of near-hysteria, and on June 27, 1969, twelve days after the second-leg game, Honduras broke diplomatic relations with El Salvador. On July 14, 1969, the Salvadoran army launched an attack against Honduras. The Organization of American States negotiated a cease-fire which took effect on July 20, with the Salvadoran troops withdrawn in early August.[3]

Israel was one of the founding members of the Asian Football Confederation following its own independence in 1948 (prior to that it played under the banner of "Palestine/Eretz Yisrael").[4] After the 1974 Asian Games in Iran (and a tense loss to Iran[5]), Kuwait and other Arab states refused to play them. Following this, they were expelled from the confederation and spent a few years trying to qualify from such continental bodies as the OFC before joining UEFA.[6]

The 2004 AFC Asian Cup held in China made headlines due to events that took place during the final between China and Japan, apparently due to historical relations dating back to World War II (see Second Sino-Japanese War and Nanjing Massacre).[7] As the Japanese national anthem was being played, the home fans expressed their anti-Japanese sentiment by drowning out the national anthem with their chants. The Chinese home fans also continually booed the players, visiting fans and officials as they watched Japan defeat China 3–1. After the match, some Chinese fans rioted outside the Beijing Worker's Stadium.

Once again, on September 6, 2008, Armenia and Turkey faced each other in a 2010 FIFA World Cup qualification match in Yerevan. In an unprecedented step, Turkish President Abdullah Gül was invited to watch the match, where he and his Armenia counterpart, Serzh Sargsyan, sat together, albeit behind bullet-proof glass. However, the Turkish national anthem was almost drowned out by booing from 35,000 Armenian fans, showing there is still a lot of mistrust between the two countries. However, the gesture "between the presidents showed that they believed 'football diplomacy' had achieved the most important result." This was a first for the two countries divided by the legacy of the 20th century's first genocide.[8][9][10][11][12]

In 2009, France and the Republic of Ireland met in the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualification play-off, where the winner of the two-legged tie progressed through to the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. After a 1–1 aggregate draw, the match went into extra time at France's National Stadium. The winning goal came from France's William Gallas, but in the build-up, Thierry Henry twice handled the ball, before passing to Gallas to score. It was seen as a "Hand of Frog" goal, in reference to the similar "Hand of God" goal in the match between Argentina and England. It the became an international incident with Irish TaoiseachBrian Cowen demanding a replay and the French President telling him to "stick to politics".[13] The replay was not given.

In 2010 relations between Iran and the UAE took a turn for the worse when the Football Federation Islamic Republic of Iran sent a letter to the AFC complaining about the misuse of the Persian Gulf name. "The move was made after the UAE misrepresented the name Persian Gulf during a match between Iran's Sepahan and the UAE's Al Ain. The Emirate television displayed various banners showing a fictitious name for the Persian Gulf during the match between Iran's Sepahan and the UAE's Al Ain. The AFC must take serious measures to deal with UAE actions of the sort", Taj added. "The UAE side must be fined for showing a fictitious name for the Persian Gulf during the live broadcast of the match."[14] In addition to official comments from the UAE in regards to comparing the three disputed islands of Greater Tunb, the Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa, held by Iran, to the occupation of Palestine, calls were made for a downgrade of ties.[15] This also comes after the Islamic Solidarity Games, to be held in Iran, were canceled over the dispute of the Persian Gulf label.

When drawing for UEFA European Championships Qualification a special measure is put in place where by Gibraltar and Spain cannot be drawn together because of the Disputed status of Gibraltar. The same system is in place for Azerbaijan and Armenia because of the poor relations between the two countries. The same measure was put in place for Russia and Georgia after the 2008 Russo-Georgian War but was however lifted for the Euro 2016 tournament when the two agreed to play each other again.[16]


In Germany, the occasional matchup between FC St. Pauli and F.C. Hansa Rostock is known as the "Political Derby" (German: Politisches Derby). Though not a local derby, these teams' supporters represent opposite sides of Germany's political spectrum.[which?][17][18]

In Brazil, Sport Club Corinthians Paulista is well known as a leader of a political movement called Corinthians Democracy (Portuguese: Democracia Corinthiana) and became a symbol against the military dictatorship happening at the time in the country in the 1980s. Claiming for an electoral democracy, every decision made by the club was done by voting by the squad players with the consent of the board of directors. Footballer Sócrates is considered one of the leaders of the movement,this movement is reemerging as the political party, the CORINTHIAN NATIONAL PARTY (Portuguese: Partido Nacional Corinthiano - PNC), in which its leader and President is Juan Antonio Moreno Grangeiro.

In Israel, Beitar Jerusalem are infamously known for their Jewish nationalism, particularly against the first Arab-Israeli team to win the national cup, Bnei Sakhnin;[19] conversely Maccabi Haifa is known for its cross-community support, particularly in its support by Arabs.[20] In the women's game, Hapoel Petah Tikva have recruited Arab players.[21]

In Scotland, the Old Firm rivalry between Glasgow-based clubs Celtic F.C. and Rangers F.C. is politically tinged along sectarian lines with Roman Catholics in Scotland and Ireland supporting the former and Protestant, mainly Presbyterians, supporting the latter. It is arguably elevated by the Northern Ireland conflict.

Athletic Bilbao are famous for the cantera policy of signing only Basque players. Along with fellow Basque side Real Sociedad, Bilbao raised the still banned Basque flag in a game shortly after the death of General Francisco Franco.

In France, SC Bastia fans display various symbols of Corsican nationalism at Stade Armand Cesari, like Dio vi Salvi Regina and the "Testa di Moro" on the club crest; during 2015 Coupe de la Ligue Final held in the Stade de France 30.000 Corsicans sang chants in their own dialect, similar to Sardinian dialect. Stade Rennais fans of Roazhon Celtic Kop display and are inspired by Breton Nationalism : Bro Gozh ma Zadoù is played before every match.


Norway declined to take part in the 1957 Bandy World Championship because the Soviet Union was invited, due to the Soviet invasion of Hungary the year before. The country made a similar protest for the 1969 Bandy World Championship because of the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia that year, handing over the hosting of the 1969 event to Sweden.

Ukraine declined to take part in the 2015 Bandy World Championship hosted by Russia because of the Russian annexation of Crimea the year before, since Ukraine still considers Crimea as part of its territory.


Heavyweight championMax Schmeling had been lauded by the Nazi Party as a heroic symbol of German destiny and Aryan supremacy.[citation needed] A politically charged boxing match with Joe Louis was preceded nationalistic symbolism and imagery.[citation needed] Schmeling defeated Louis, for the latter's first professional defeat in 1936. Langston Hughes recalled the national reaction to Louis' defeat.

I walked down Seventh Avenue and saw grown men weeping like children, and women sitting in the curbs with their head in their hands. All across the country that night when the news came out that Joe was knocked out, people cried. – Langston Hughes[22]

Schmeling was, however, welcomed home with a jubilant reaction. Hitler sent his wife flowers with the message: "For the wonderful victory of your husband, our greatest German boxer, I must congratulate you with all my heart." Schmeling responded to the accolades saying: "At this moment I have to tell Germany, I have to report to the Führer in particular, that the thoughts of all my countrymen were with me in this fight; that the Führer and his faithful people were thinking of me. This thought gave me the strength to succeed in this fight. It gave me the courage and the endurance to win this victory for Germany's colours."[23]

A rematch was scheduled later in New York City. In the build-up to the event U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt offered his support: "Joe, we need muscles like yours to beat Germany." Schmeling's hotel was picketed by American protestors after an accompanying Nazi Party publicist declared that a black man could not defeat Schmeling and that when he won, his prize money would be used to build German tanks.[24] Louis won the rematch in a first round knock out and he became the focal point of anti-Nazi sentiment leading up to World War II. Louis later recalled the pressure on him before the fight: "I knew I had to get Schmeling good. I had my own personal reasons and the whole damned country was depending me."[23]

Decades later, Muhammad Ali took up political causes in his refusal to be drafted for the Vietnam War amid the Civil Rights Movement during the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson.

After earning the championship, Clay converted his religion to Islam, which instigated conflict with his boxing career. He also abandoned his name that was given to his slave ancestors and adopted Muhammad Ali. On April 28, 1967, he refused to serve in the Army during the Vietnam War, stating religious reasons that it goes against the Qur'an's teaching.

I ain't got no quarrel with those Vietcong...no Vietcong ever called me nigger. - Muhammad Ali

He then became an icon of not only the civil rights struggle, but also the anti-Vietnam War movement. However he was convicted of draft evasion, sentenced to five years in prison, fined $10,000 and stripped of his championship. It was not until a lawsuit in 1970 that Ali redeemed his title. He would continue in historical boxing matches now known as Rumble in the Jungle in 1974 and Thrilla in Manila in 1975, defeating George Foreman and Joe Frazier, respectively.[25]


Chess, which is a recognized sport of the International Olympic Committee, has a history of being linked to political issues. This was particularly true of the 1972 World Championship match between the American Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union. The match took place during the Cold War and the pressure was mounting.[26]


Further information: Cricket Diplomacy

In 1969, the Marylebone Cricket Club refused to allow Basil D'Oliveira to play for England against South Africa for fear of upseting the apartheid regime. D'Oliveira was a coloured born in South Africa and refused permission to play for the South African team by the government, instead he played for England. D'Oliveria was one of the more likely players to be selected following his performance against Australia in the previous year's Ashes. However, he was not selected; it was suspected at the time[by whom?] that this was capitulation towards the apartheid regime.[citation needed]

Cricket has also had a hand to play in sporting diplomacy. Following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and Soviet pressure on India to deflect the tension they faced, in 1987 Pakistan's president at the time, General Zia ul-Haq, attended a test match between India and Pakistan in Jaipur – a visit that apparently helped cool a flare-up in tensions. Furthermore, following a fifteen-year lull in test matches, cricket tours between India and Pakistan were revived in 2004 in the wake of diplomatic initiatives to bury half a century of mutual hostility. Both sides relaxed their tough visa regulations for each other, allowing thousands of fans to travel across the border.[27][28]

In an attempt to replicate the cricket diplomacy of the past General Pervez Musharraf came to India in 2005 ostensibly for a cricket match. The trip, however, quickly took on the air of a summit as the sides were urged "to seize a historic chance to end their dispute over Kashmir."[29][30] Often this rivalry has been tinged with a religious-political bent to it. A Pakistani fan in Karachi ran onto the pitch to attack the Indian captain, and fans threw stones at the Indian players during the match in Karachi. In 2000 right-wing Hindus dug up the cricket pitch in New Delhi to protest against the Pakistani team's visit.[31] Following the Kargil conflict, and at various other times, there have also been calls to suspend cricketing ties between the two countries.[1]

In reference to immigrants from the Caribbean and South Asia, British Conservative party member Norman Tebbit once a "cricket test" could adjudge a persons loyalty to England by determining whether or not they supported the England and Wales cricket team ahead of those from their own countries of origin.

In 2008, the England and Wales Cricket Board cancelled Zimbabwe's 2009 tour of England and suspended all bilateral relations between the two states in response to the situation regarding the 2008 Zimbabwean presidential election.[32] MPs Jack Straw and Tessa Jowell wrote to the International Cricket Council asking then to ban Zimbabwe from international cricket.[33]

China have also gotten in on the cricket diplomacy act. Cross-Strait relations have once again been the impetus for doing so. During the buildup to the 2007 World Cup, Antigua received a $55 million grant to build the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, while Jamaica received $30 million for a new Trelawny stadium. St. Lucia have also got both a cricket and a football stadium courtesy of China. China spent a remarkable $132 million on cricket facilities in the West Indies over the past few years, a massive amount compared to the International Cricket Council's paltry 10-year budget of $70 million to promote cricket globally. It is said that the motive for China's generosity is because "Most of the remaining countries that recognize Taiwan are located in the Caribbean and Latin America." The diplomacy paid off in the end as Grenada and Dominica derecognized Taiwan as an independent country. Further, "Of the remaining 24 countries that recognize Taiwan, four are in the Caribbean and two of these play cricket." Grenada previously had a stadium built by Taiwan, but saw it flattened by a hurricane. To join the action, China quickly came in to erect another stadium. Consequently, Taiwan took Grenada to a New York City court to force the latter to return the original loan.

Put on the back foot, a beleaguered Taiwan also used the World Cup to shore up its position among its shrinking West Indian support base. It doled out $21 million to St. Kitts and Nevis and $12 million to the even smaller St. Vincent and the Grenadines for cricket grounds. China's aggressive ambitions have benefited the Caribbean Islands as "Strategic analysts say China is laying out more money than is needed to just isolate Taiwan. China, which has built large embassies in each of the islands, now has a bigger diplomatic presence in the Caribbean than the United States, the superpower next door." And that "Mainland China's long-term strategy coincides with its foreign policy."[34]

Following the death of Saeed Anwar's daughter he took to a more fundamental Islam and started growing a beard. He was then said to have been the turning point in the Islamisation of the Pakistani cricket team,[35] which was also a reason for Yousuf Youhana's conversion to Islam.[36] From the 2003 World Cup a more visible trend of religion was seen in the Pakistan team with many players having become more devout to the point of either leading prayers or growing beards as a symbol of being a "good Muslim" (with the notable exception of Shoaib Akhtar and Danish Kaneria (the latter being the only Hindu on the team)).[37] Even post-match interviews were preceded by Islamic salutations such as Bismillah ur Rehman rahim.[35] Most famously, after the loss to arch-rival India at the 2007 ICC World Twenty20Shoaib Malik came under fire for apologising "I want to thank everyone back home in Pakistan and Muslims all over the world. Thank you very much and I’m sorry that we didn’t win, but we did give our 100 per cent" for the defeat, which was particularly ironic considering Irfan Pathan, a Muslim was named Man of the Match for his performance in India's win,[38] and Shah Rukh Khan was in the stands cheering on India.[39] Following the 2007 World Cup and the loss to Ireland (an unranked cricket team), the religious influence was criticised for taking a toll on the team. The Islamisation of such a Western sport in Pakistan was seen as symbolic of the growing influence of religion in every field.[40] In Pakistan, this trend was attributed to dating back to the tenure of the military government of General Zia-ul Haq where the focus of the youth was shifted from Pakistan as a nation-state and cultural-religious pluralism to Islam as a transnational identity, greater attention to conservative Islamic ritualism, and a perception of a global conspiracy against Muslims and admiration for militancy. A need was also seen to reorient sportsmen towards professionalism, discipline and rules and regulations. It was said that the focus of education and socialisation needed to return to a Pakistan that could not afford to be at war.[41]

In 2011, India and Pakistan played each other in the 2011 Cricket World Cup for the first time since 26/11 attacks in Mumbai and a general souring of relations. The event was spontaneously attended by Prime Ministers Yousaf Raza Gillani of Pakistan and Manmohan Singh of India. Following the game, permission was granted for the two countries to play regular series against each other.[citation needed]

Formula 1[edit]


Amid the Bahraini uprising, Avaaz.org called for sports boycotts, comparing the situation in Bahrain with that of apartheid South Africa.[42] Other human rights protesters also called for a boycott of the Bahrain Grand Prix with more explicit comparisons to the sporting boycott of South Africa.[43][44] On 17 February, it was announced that the second round of GP2 Asia Series, which was to be held at Bahrain International Circuit on 17–19 February, had been cancelled due to security and safety concerns surrounding the protests.[45] On 21 February, the 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix, then to take place on 13 March, was again cancelled because of the same concerns.[46] Similarly, the 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix, which was held amid claims from Bernie Ecclestone that there was no trouble, faced weekly protests and violence leading up to the event.


Main article: Politics in the Olympics

Going as far back as the 1936 Olympics, Adolf Hitler used this as a stage to promote Aryan nationalism for Germany with his ideological belief of racial supremacy.[47] The Olympics were used as a method of hardening the German spirit and instilling unity among German youth. It was also believed that sport was a "way to weed out the weak, Jewish, and other undesirables."[48] As a result, many Jews and Gypsies were banned from participating in sporting events. While Germany did top the medal table, the Nazi depiction of ethnic Africans as inferior was dispelled by Jesse Owens' gold medals in the 100m, 200m, 4 × 100 m relay and long jump events.[49] There were questions as to whether Hitler acknowledged Owens' victories. On the first day of competition, Hitler left the stadium after only shaking hands with the German victors. An Olympic committee member then insisted that Hitler either greet every medalist or none at all; he chose the latter.[50] At the games he was visited by Adi Dassler, the founder of Adidas, who offered new shoes to Owens.[51]

Hitler had a certain time to come to the stadium and a certain time to leave. It happened he had to leave before the victory ceremony after the 100 meters. But before he left I was on my way to a broadcast and passed near his box. He waved at me and I waved back. I think it was bad taste to criticise the 'man of the hour' – Jesse Owens[52]

Once again, in 1968, the global stage of the Olympics was used to show the world the plight of the African-American struggle during the civil rights movement in their home country. The famous Black Powersalute was performed by Tommie Smith and John Carlos during the medal ceremony in Mexico City. Věra Čáslavská, in protest to the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia and the controversial decision by the judges on the Balance Beam and Floor, turned her head down and away from the Soviet flag whilst the anthem played during the medal ceremony. She returned home as a heroine of the Czechoslovak people, but was made an outcast by the Soviet dominated government.

In 1972, some members of the Israeli Olympic team were killed in an attack by Palestinian Black September gunmen that started at the Olympic village and eventually resulted in the deaths of 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan led to a boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics by a numerous Western states and their allies in protest of Russian actions. In the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics the Soviet Bloc led a retaliatory boycott of the games in response to the American-led Moscow games boycott.

Following the cancellation of wrestling at the Olympics in the 2010s, traditional political rivals Iran, Russia and the United States joined forces to annul the measure. The U.S. hosted a publicity event in New York City with athletes from all three countries to campaign for its reinstatement.[53]

Table tennis[edit]

Main article: Ping Pong Diplomacy

In the 1970s an exchange of table tennis players from the United States and the People's Republic of China led to a thaw in Sino-American relations that eventually led to U.S. President Richard Nixon's rapprochement with China. It all began when the Chinese table tennis team invited their U.S. counterparts to their country on an all-expense paid trip during the 1971 World Table Tennis Championships in Japan. Time magazine termed it: "The ping heard ‘round the world.'" On April 10, 1971, the team, and accompanying journalists, became the first U.S. sports delegation to enter and break the information blockade since 1949. Although the U.S. team was defeated by their hosts, in return to Premier Chou En-lai's invitation to more U.S. journalists, the United States government announced that it would lift its 20-year embargo on trade with China. A reporter for Time noted that table tennis was "an apt metaphor for the relations between Washington and Peking" and that both state motioned a willingness to adapt to the new initiative. However, it was not until July 15, that Nixon would finally be the first U.S. president to pay a visit to China. Thirty-six years later, a three-day "Ping-Ping Diplomacy" event was held at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum during the week of June 9, 2008. The original members of the U.S. and Chinese teams from 1971 were present to participate at the event.[54]


In 2008, Israeil tennists Shahar Pe'er, Tzipi Obziler, Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich were supposed to feature in ATP and WTA tournaments in Doha and Dubai, respectively, despite bans on Israeli passport holders from entering both countries.[6] Peer was refused a visa to Dubai the following year following the Gaza War with the organisers saying "We do not wish to politicise sport but we have to be sensitive to recent events in the whole region and not alienate or put at risk the players or the many tennis fans of different nationalities that we have in the United Arab Emirates." The WTA chief executive Larry Scott later reacted saying some "sanctions" would be issued on Dubai. She also faced protests following the war during a tournament in New Zealand.[55]

During the 2010 US Open tennis tournament India's Rohan Bopanna and Pakistan's Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi reached the men's doubles finals, eliciting responses from political leaders in both countries. Supporters from both countries, including the respective United Nations ambassadors, sat in the stands together. Rashid Malik, Pakistan's Davis Cup coach, said "The success of their team so far has been a big encouragement for both countries, it will only have a peaceful and positive impact on their people." Manohar Singh Gill, India's sports minister, asked "I have one question for everyone. If Bopanna and Qureshi can play together, why cannot India and Pakistan?"

The two were also involved in another campaign promoted by the Monaco-based Peace and Sport when they wore sweat shirts with slogans reading "Stop War, Start Tennis." They refer to themselves as the "Indo-Pak Express." Such a high-profile collaboration meant this was read as a "unique" partnership. Qureshi said "It just feels like us doing well on the bigger level is getting the message across throughout the world – if me and Rohan can get along so well there's no reason the Indians and Pakistanis can't get along with each other. If even two or three per cent of people say, 'If they can get along why can't we?' that's what we're trying to do. "They're all mixed together sitting in the crowd. You can't tell who is Pakistani and who is Indian. That's the beauty about sports. Before our pairing you would never see that in any sports, fighting for one cause. It's really good to be part of it."[56]

After their finals defeat, Qureshi spoke to the crowd to "say something on behalf of all Pakistanis, [that] every time I come here, there's a wrong perception about the people of Pakistan. They are very friendly, very loving people. We want peace in this world as much as you guys." He then made a political appeal to the controversial "Ground Zero mosque" saying "For me, as a Muslim, that's what makes America the greatest country in the world - freedom of religion, freedom of speech. If the mosque is built, I think it's a huge gesture to all the Muslim community out there in the world. I would really appreciate it." Indian and Pakistani fans filled the stadium for the final as the two U.N. ambassadors again sat together in the President's Box. Pakistan's ambassador Abdullah Hussain Haroon said "They've proven that when Indians and Pakistanis get together we can raise fire. I think on a people-to-people basis, they're setting an example that the politicians should follow."[57]


South Africa[edit]

Main article: Sporting boycott of South Africa

Most famously, the sporting boycott of South Africa during Apartheid was said to have played a crucial role in forcing South Africa to open up their society and to end a global isolation. South Africa was excluded from the 1964 Summer Olympics, and many sports' governing bodies expelled or suspended membership of South African affiliates. It was said that the "international boycott of apartheid sport has been a powerful means for sensitising world opinion against apartheid and in mobilising millions of people for action against that despicable system." This boycott "in some cases helped change official policies."

The South African Table Tennis Board (SATTB), a body founded in contravention to the white South African table tennis board, was replaced for the latter by the International Table Tennis Federation. While the SATTB team was able to participate in the world championships held in Stockholm in 1957, team members were immediately refused passports by the government. It ruled that no black could compete internationally except through the white sports body.

Started in 1980, the United Nations "Register of Sports Contacts with South Africa" – a record of sports exchanges with South Africa and a list of sportsmen who have participated in sports events in South Africa – prove to be an effective instrument to discourage collaboration with apartheid sport.[58][59] In the 1980s South Africa was also expelled from most international sports bodies. The International Olympic Committee even adopted a declaration against "apartheid in sport" on June 21, 1988, for the total isolation of apartheid sport.[60][61]

The country's hosting and winning of the 1995 Rugby World Cup was a powerful boost to post-apartheid South Africa's return to the international sporting scene.[31] The 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa also drew similar parallels and questions as to whether race could be overcome,[62] this was especially true following the death of Eugene Terreblanche.[63]

United States[edit]

Fans of NASCAR are generally considered by the media of the United States to fall within the Republican base as an "almost exclusively white, conservative racing crowd", the "white, middle-aged, working-class Southern men" who were coveted in the first decades of 21st century during electoral campaigns. Joe Gibbs, a NASCAR team owner, spoke at the 2008 Republican National Convention.[64] Almost 90 percent of political contributions from those affiliated with NASCAR go to Republican candidates. Texas Governor, Rick Perry sponsored 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup Series Champion Bobby Labonte's car for an election campaign in 2010.[65] Labonte was reported to have been paid $225,000 to carry the "rickperry.org" logo.[66] Two years later, Rick Santorum sponsored Tony Raines' car.[67] In 2000, then Republican primary candidate Rudy Giuliani made an appearance at the Daytona International Speedway.[68]

A study of elections has shown that the result of sports events can affect the overall results. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that when the home team wins the game before the election, the incumbent candidates can increase their share of the vote by 1.5 percent, while a loss had the opposite effect. The study looked at NCAA football games from 1946 to 2008. In addition, the study found that colleges with higher attendance rates had a larger effect on the results, up to 3%. The effects are increased even further if the game is an upset, that is, if the team expected to win does not. Other studies have confirmed these results for other sports, such as baseball and basketball. The study authors concluded that the win made voters feel better about society, boosting votes for the incumbent, while losses made voters feel worse, sending votes to the challenger. There was some speculation that the result of certain games could even decide the 2012 United States presidential election.[69]

In the United States elections, 2010, at least five former athletes ran on Republican tickets for political office. Chris Dudley took part in his first political race for Governor of Oregon after playing for the Portland Trail Blazers. He also helped persuade former Philadelphia Eagles' Jon Runyan to run for New Jersey's 3rd congressional district against a first-term Democrat John Adler. Shawn Bradley of the Philadelphia 76ers and Dallas Mavericks ran for a seat in Utah's legislature; Keith Fimian, who played for the Cleveland Browns, sought a House seat from Virginia; and former Washington Redskins' Clint Didier sought a Republican nomination for Senate in Washington state.[70] Only Runyan won his election.

Baseball players union boss Don Fehr contributed to the presidential primaries for George W. Bush, Al Gore, Bill Bradley and John McCain. Cincinnati Reds owner Carl Lindner contributed $1.4 million to the Republican party and $1 million to the US Democratic party.[71] Former MLB pitcher Jim Bunning was also a senator once. NFL quarterback Heath Shuler has served as a member of the House of Representatives, as well as Seattle Seahawks receiver Steve Largent and Oklahoma Sooners quarterback J.C. Watts. Former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jack Kemp was a nine term congressman who chaired the House Republican Leadership Conference and served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President George H. W. Bush. Kemp was the 1996 Republican candidate for Vice President. Bill Bradley, who played basketball for the New York Knicks, served three terms in the U.S. Senate representing New Jersey.

Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis planned to run for office from New Jersey, though his attempt was blocked and he awaited an appeal hearing.[72]

In 2002, the US State Department initiated a sports exchange programme entitled SportsUnited to encourage dialogue between children from the ages of 7–17. The programme seeks to bring together international students with their counterparts in the U.S. to establish links with American professional athletes and to expose them to American culture. Another programme encourages U.S. athletes to travel to and learn about foreign cultures and the challenges young people face in other countries. SportsUnited has partaken in 15 different sports in nearly 70 countries.[73]

North Korea[edit]

World Cup[edit]

North Korea's relationships with the international community, especially South Korea, have sometimes been shaped by sports diplomacy. In the 1966 World Cup, North Korea defeated the heavily favored Italian team.[74]Kim Jong-il believed that successful athletics increases the strength of a country, promoted its ideology, brought a country great honor and increased its international reputation.[75] For this reason, this victory has become propaganda used by the North Korean regime to present a reputable country to not only their citizens, but also to the international community as a whole. Although North Korea has not had much success since this victory, North Korea participated in the 2010 World Cup. In addition, North Korea was surrounded by controversy during 2006 World Cup qualifying. Fan violence in Pyongyang after a match with Iran led to North Korea playing a home game in Thailand without any fans.[76]

1988 Seoul Olympics[edit]

The years leading up to, during, and after the 1988 Seoul Olympics played a major role in the development of North Korea. In 1981, Seoul was selected as the host of the 1988 Olympics. Although at first, North Korea did not consider that Seoul being selected as Olympic host was a major issue, it quickly realized that South Korea hosting the Olympics would highlight the growing economic imbalances between North and South Korea.[77] This realization led to a large devotion of time and effort in an attempt to convince the International Olympic Committee to split the Olympic Games between Seoul and Pyongyang. During these discussions, the IOC considered some concessions, only to be rejected by the North Korean regime. This can be seen as a great missed opportunity for North Korea to gain from the Olympic Games.[78]

During this time, North Korea's major allies were China, the USSR, and Cuba. While Fidel Castro and Cuba staunchly defended North Korea, both the USSR and China agreed to participate in the games. This major decision strained relationships that were vital to the North Korean economic system.[78] Throughout the history of North Korea, North Korea relied heavily on the foreign aid. The countries that gave the most aid were the USSR and China. For that reason, the strained relationships had a major effect on North Korea. This played a major role in the North Korean isolationist policies of the 1990s. In addition, as a result of the undeniable success of the Seoul Games, the growing gap between these two nations was further put on display.

As a result of the failed negotiations North Korea engaged in several acts of terrorism. In 1987, in an attempt to destabilize the Olympic Games and instill fear in the international community, a South Korean commercial flight, Korean Air Flight 858 was bombed killing 115 passengers on board.[77] This event did not fulfill its intended purpose and instead further weakened North Korea's international reputation.

World Festival of Youth and Students[edit]

North Korea, following its unsuccessful effort to sabotage the Seoul Olympics decided to hold the World Festival of Youth and Students in 1989. Coming one year after the most successful Olympics in years, there was large pressure on the North Korean regime to hold a similarly successful event. Although this event brought in 177 countries, the greatest number in its history, it was never seen as a true alternative to the Olympics and did not gain the international visibility that the North Korean government had hoped for.[77] In addition, the cost of the event was a staggering 4 billion dollars and helped further push North Korea into the financial distress that was so prevalent during the 1990s.

Arirang Festival[edit]

The Arirang Festival, starting in the early 2000s takes place in the Rungrado 1st of May Stadium, the largest stadium in the world holding approximately 150,000 people. Participation in this event is mandatory and the performances are extravagant and impressively choreographed.[79] The Arirang Festival can be broken up into three different parts. The first is a floor show, where thousands of athletes, gymnasts and dancers demonstrate their athletic abilities. The second section uses thousands of North Koreans to create a human mosaic depicting vibrant images of North Korea and North Korean achievements. Finally, the third section is the music that links the performance.[79] Together, these elements present to the international community North Korea's best athletes through a mix of athletics and art. The Arirang Festival draws international tourists and journalists and intends to present a thriving economic nation to the world. Many of the acts in the festival focus on the theme of reunification. Children chant "how much longer do we have to be divided due to foreign forces". The 2014 and 2015 Arirang Festivals were canceled and it is unknown if it will return.

Recent relations with South Korea[edit]

North Korea and South Korea marched together for the 2000 Sydney Olympics, 2004 Athens Olympics and 2006 Turin Olympics. Plans to walk together for the 2008 Beijing Olympics fell through when principles regarding selection of athletes could not be agreed upon. After the 2008 Beijing Olympics tensions have increased between these two nations.[79]

Many inter-Korean sporting events were held in the 2000s. These events were referred to as unification matches.[79]

Internal use of sports politics[edit]

The North Korean leaders understood the importance of sports not only in the international community, but also internally. The major ideology in North Korea, Juche, has been solidified through the Communist Party's use of sports.[75] The North Korea regime believed that by supporting the increases in sport, the North Korean people would overall be more fit. This would allow the people to be more useful in the revolutionary struggle. For this reason, it was important to start athletics young. In fact, training in physical sport was mandatory during schooling. In the 2000s, major sporting events were being broadcast throughout North Korea, and these events are still being used as propaganda tools. Sports have played a vital role in maintaining the power of the ruling class, while at the same time offering opportunities to interact with the international community.


Further information: Category:Sportsperson-politicians by nationality

More recently Manny Pacquiao was elected to the House of Representatives of the Philippines in 2010[80] and Vitali Klitschko was elected to the Ukrainian Parliament as leader of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform in 2012.[81]

President Serzh Sargsyan is also Chairman of the Armenian Chess Federation.[82] Olympic Champion Yurik Vardanyan is an advisor to Sargsyan.[83]

Red Kelly became a Canadian MP while playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu ran three successful campaigns (including a by-election resulting from his own resignation) to become a member of parliament in the Lok Sabha as a Bharatiya Janata Party candidate. In the 2009 general election, former captain Mohammed Azharuddin also won a seat in parliament from outside his home territory. Kirti Azad also won a seat in parliament from Darbhanga, Bihar from the BJP. Sachin Tendulkar was sworn in as a MP in the Rajya Sabha on 4 June 2012, while he was active in the sports field.[84] Olympic gold-medalist Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore joined the BJP. It was said that "celebrities...are a time-tested tool for the political parties to tide over their bankruptcy."[85] Additionally, former cricketer Mohammed Kaif ran as an unsuccessful candidate for the National Congress in the 2014 elections. Former football player Avertano Furtado was also elected as a MLA in Goa. Former hockey player Pargat Singh was also elected as a MLA for the Shiromani Akali Dal.

In 2013, Wesley Korir, winner of the 2012Boston Marathon, was elected to the Kenyan National Assembly.[86]

Former chess player Garry Kasparov also became an opposition activist in his native Russia.

Former offshore powerboat racer Daniel Scioli became vice-president of Argentina between 2003 and 2007 and is currently the Governor of the Province of Buenos Aires, considered one of the most influential political jobs in Argentina. Carlos Espínola, a windsurfer and Olympic medalist, also entered politics and is, as of 2013, mayor of his native city[which?] in Corrientes Province. Former Pakistani cricketer and the captain of the Pakistan cricket team which won the world cup, Imran Khan later created his own political party PTI which is currently the main form of opposition in the Pakistan government.

In popular culture[edit]

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The late Avery Brundage of the United States, International Olympic Committee (IOC) president, argued that sports and politics are and should always be separate. Yet, clearly even a cursory look below the surface indicates how sports are a heady mix of inspiration and representation, with the latter related to obvious forms of identification within the social context.

When we consider politics in sports we must examine the internal, external, and peripheral influences on sports. Internally, the authorities and organizations that determine the development of their particular sport can be viewed as inherently political. The fact that key policy decisions are made by governing bodies and sports authorities makes this a political process. The issue of politics affecting the sporting environment from outside is more obviously dependent on the use of examples. The issue is particularly related to how during the twentieth century sports became increasingly affected by the political undercurrents within society. The interaction between sports and politics has also been partly a result of increasing international exchange at a diplomatic and sporting level. However, another key agent in this developing dynamic since the mid-nineteenth century has been peripheral influences such as the growth of the media. The provision of television as a mode of information transfer, since the mid-1960s, has further solidified the link between political processes and the sporting context.


Sports and broader expressions of physical culture have played a role throughout history as a means of achieving political capital and increased popularity for political figures. The centrality of the ancient Roman coliseum to successive emperors is a good example of this fact. Throughout the latter part of the nineteenth century the organization and development of sports were firmly in the hands of elite social groups. This fact suggests that the structure of the sociopolitical environment played a key role in popularizing the pastimes and activities that have since spread throughout society and across the world. More recently, the German chancellor Adolf Hitler’s use of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin cast a shadow over those particular Olympics as much for the political management of the event as for the subsequent horrors of that regime.

Sports and physical culture were also significant in the former Communist countries. Indeed, significant political figures in Communist nations began to develop a highly utilitarian physical culture to support the needs of their society. Communist societies in particular needed it and strong people to work to support the development of their society and also to defend the state if necessary. In China a long history of traditional pastimes and court games informs China’s more recent utilitarian system of physical culture. In command economies psychic income is received by the state and society from having an international champion. Cuba’s history of boxing success at the Olympics is a good example of the political importance of sporting success to Communist states. It provides vigor to their self-image and raises their standing in the eyes of the world. Although these examples illustrate the extent of state manipulation of sports for political ends, this issue is not limited to Communism.

Internal Politics of Sports

We should examine the full extent of political processes involved in sports. They can operate at the international level, as detailed in the examples related to the Olympics. In the former USSR sports were little more than a tool of the state. They provided a focus for their achievements on an international stage, and the governing bodies operated under direct governmental control to further this goal. Certainly the full glare of the global media provides its own form of accountability for those people making political decisions at the level of international sports.

At the national level more complex models exist for providing sports. The models can be affected by the national culture, climate, religion, economics, and, of course, society in general. Perhaps most difficult to distinguish is the often informal and occasional type of provision at a local level. What is not always clear is how different national political processes are supposed to act in the best interests of sports. In many respects the governmental policy toward sports (even the lack of a distinct policy) can inform our analysis of the provision of sports. Clearly the introduction of greater degrees of planning and organization related to school sports and physical education can affect notions of health and illness within society as well as have potentially positive effects on rates of crime and recidivism. The importance of such sports development initiatives will only increase in the future. At both the national and local levels accountability is provided by the democratic process; yet, perhaps the most powerful policy makers are not actually politicians. The role of the national governing bodies provides further information about how the national government interacts with its national sporting authorities. The role of the governing bodies can also be viewed as central to the character and nature of sports. An excellent example of this fact has been the stewardship of the Olympic Games by the International Olympic Committee.

The application of political theories to sports can also provide a useful analytical lens. Pluralism and the traditional Western model of sports remain the consensus position for most developed countries. This position recognizes the fact that numerous agencies have a bearing on the practical aspects of sports. The provision of a consensus can also be relevant to the notion of hegemony (influence) within sports. A more controversial political ideology that has had a crucial influence on the way that sports are viewed within their socio-economic context relates to traditional Marxism. Although the German political philosopher Karl Marx did not actually focus on sports, an analysis of the sociopolitical context can be directly applied to the sporting context. Marx’s focus on the inequalities inherent within the structure of many societies is a perspective that continues to influence the growing study of how best to provide practical forms of sports development.

Sports remain part of a policy-making process, and by definition politics and political structures are a central part of any policy-making process. Sports, by definition, have to be organized by decisions made within a particular nation’s politicoeconomic structure. Consequently, sports would not enjoy the popularity that they have if not for the influence and control provided by the varied efforts of political associations and organizations as well as politicians and policies throughout history. Indeed, Bruce Kidd, an expert on international sport, put it rather eloquently in the British series about the history of the Olympics, The Games in Question (1988):

Politics have always been part of international sport and to suggest otherwise is ludicrous. Training and competition … everything connected with an international sports event are provided by a decision-making process that I would call political. They involve the allocation of resources towards sport and away from something else and that is a political process.

External Politics Affecting Sports

After World War II the Cold War provided a backdrop to world sports between 1950 and 1990 and added a significant political aspect to the practice of international relations, including sports. However, not all instances of political intrusion at the Olympic Games were related to Cold War tensions. The black power salute of Tommy Smith and John Carlos at Mexico City in 1968 remains an enduring example of the use of the sporting arena for the expression of diverse political agendas, in this case regarding the issue of civil rights within the United States. An unintended consequence of the protest at Mexico City was to highlight to others with diverse and often radical political agendas how sports can be used as a vehicle to communicate a message. This incident was to have terrible and far-reaching consequences after the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. The Palestinian terrorist group Black September used that global sports festival as a means to disseminate its message related to the prevailing political situation in the Middle East. Four years later the boycott of the Montreal Olympic Games by the Organization of African Unity (OAU)— after protests against sporting links with apartheid (racial segregation) South Africa—provided a global focus for examining and hardening attitudes toward that pariah state. Again the role of the media in providing a vehicle for disseminating such messages is significant.

Clearly sports have the ability to act as a metaphorical background or a pressure-relief valve for both nations and individuals. On a number of occasions the sporting arena in general and the Olympic Games in particular have provided a stage where the two superpowers could compete in a sporting environment in front of the eyes of the world. In a number of instances politics has adversely affected the proceedings. Indeed, one can argue that without politics a broad interest in international sports would not exist today. The use of the Olympic Games as a tool in boycott politics during the 1970s and 1980s was possible only because of the influence of the mass media on global society during the latter half of the twentieth century.

The Olympic Games during the Cold War provide examples of this inherent tension within the developing sporting exchange. The Moscow Olympic Games of 1980 and the Los Angeles Olympic Games of 1984 were tarnished by boycotts related to ongoing fractious superpower relations. Yet, in 1976 in Montreal the Olympic Games were boycotted by the Organization of African Unity in protest of South Africa’s apartheid regime. Although the 1976 boycott was clearly political, perhaps the best examples of Cold War tensions in sports were the boycotts of the early 1980s. At both Moscow and Los Angeles the Olympic Games acted as a showcase for the political ideologies of Communism and capitalism, respectively. Too often in the history of the Olympic Games opportunities to learn about people in other countries and to develop a sense of social responsibility have been undermined by the subordination of sports and recreation to political and commercial goals.

Some academics subsequently have argued that the huge success of the Los Angeles Olympic Games after the spectacular overspending at Moscow showed which political system worked better. Although this argument may be a bit simplistic to take at face value, we should realize the power of the media in providing a sufficient vehicle for the dissemination of political messages, whether positive or negative. Undoubtedly the media can operate more effectively in a market rather than a centralized command economy. In that sense it can directly affect not only the type of message disseminated, but also how that message is received. Indeed, we should remember that the media provide a means of data and information transfer for sports. In this respect we can view sports as a victim of their own success. The relationship between sports and the media is vital to this process. Sports are a uniquely cheap and effective programming resource, in relative terms, for different forms of media. In fact, this axis with the media must continue to provide a major revenue stream in support of both the organization and development of sports.

Sports as Representation

Indeed, the influence of politics on sports, coupled with the development of media coverage, was one of the defining features of the development of international sports during the latter part of the twentieth century. The late U.S. President Richard Nixon used the pretext of a sporting exchange to nurture closer relations with hard-line Communist China. A table tennis match was scheduled between the two nations. This match led to a short period of high-level exchange, which became known as “Ping-Pong diplomacy.” The role that sports have played in the hardening of attitudes in tense situations should not be underestimated. In the former Yugoslavia prior to the war in the Balkans, soccer teams provided a focus for demonstration and even violent conflict that served to challenge interethnic relations. Illustrative examples during the early 1990s were matches between the Red Star Belgrade (Serbia) and Dynamo Zagreb (Croatia), which took on a significant political element. These often violent, highly charged matches mirrored the tensions related to the slow, inexorable collapse of the Yugoslav state.

As sports provide a focus for social interaction they inevitably come under pressure from those people seeking to use sports events (or success in an event) to highlight a particular political agenda. In many cases the attempt to control the political environment through sports results in a spectacular and contentious sporting outcome. Sports are undoubtedly a political endeavor when they involve national rivalries, and politics likely will continue to be central for sports on many fronts, both in a theoretical sense and in a practical sense. The strong representational element within sports (which in turn are supported by the political system) elevates sports within our social psyche and so makes them more important to our societies. Sports provide everyone from a head of state to a fringe ideologue with the ability to present his or her message to millions across the globe.

Separation of Power

In most nations a separation exists between those people in charge of developing sports and those people in charge of funding sports. Even this separation of power on sound organizational principles is an example of politics affecting sports. Such separation fundamentally affects the interaction between groups related to the funding and organization of sports. Often as a result of the organizing and planning process, sports tend to exhibit characteristics related to a particular national identity and its perceived uniqueness. During this nonlinear process sports become increasingly relevant to societies in a representational sense. We should not underestimate the importance of the representational element of sports to policy and political groups. Politicians and political structures usually act to channel national resources toward certain sporting goals, particularly when a sport has enjoyed success on the world stage. The potential of a feel-good factor provided by sporting success to sustain the popularity of politicians has been recognized since ancient Roman times. Despite the protestations of many administrators and sportspeople, the link between sports and politics was firmly established before sports became the all-pervasive element of popular culture that they are today.


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