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How Politics Can Ruin Sports

June 5, 2015


It’s hard for Americans to understand just how important soccer is to the rest of the world. Let’s just say they call it football and it’s as important to the rest of the world as baseball and (American) football are together, and more, to Americans. The recent big news in the soccer world is that FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association), the governing body for world soccer, was considering a ban on Israel in international competition based on the Arab-Israeli conflict (sometimes called the Israeli-Palestinian conflict).

I won’t share my opinion on what I think of this attempted ban. Anyone who knows anything about me can figure out that on his own. Also, the proposed bid was withdrawn at the last minute- so, the issue has been set aside for now.
What I would like to write about is: How the introduction of politics into international sports competitions has been shown to be a recipe for disaster.

I’m not going to consider politics in non-international competition where the mix can be a positive engine of change. Witness the integration of minorities in professional sports during the 50s and 60s.

Of course, politics has been present in (international) sports since the Olympics- the ancient Olympics. And, the Olympics is the international competition where politics is most prominent and causes the most damage.

Arguably, the first overtly political demonstration in the Olympics was in 1968 when US sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in a Black Power salute. (See the picture above). While they were heavily criticized, nothing about their display harmed the competition. In 1972, Palestinian terror group Black September killed 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich games. (The irony of the contradistinction to the present proposed ban has not been lost on the careful observer). This massacre did not halt any athletic aspect of the games- a decision which has been harshly reviewed by some. The fact that that the IOC refuses to hold even a moment of silence for these dead Olympians is a source of shame to the Olympic ideal.

Moving 4 years ahead to 1976- Many nations boycotted to protest South African Apartheid policies.

1980- The US led 65 nations in boycotting the Moscow Olympics, due to the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan.

1984- In response to the 1980 boycott, the USSR led 14 nations in boycotting the Los Angeles Olympics.

All in all, politics ruined the Olympics three straight times. Specific events were simply not the same without the participation of all the nations of the world and the Gold Medalists in those events will always appear in the record books with a figurative asterisk.

But, why shouldn’t the nations of the world use sports to advance their political goals? What’s wrong with that?

Athletic competition is supposed to be about athletic competition…and nothing else. Unlike almost every other encounter in the world, athletics is the one arena where all the externalities should not matter. When two boxers step into the ring, it doesn’t matter what race or color they are, who they pray to, who has more money, whose family is more prominent or who is more educated or privileged. It’s all about who is the better boxer and that’s the beauty of sports.

It would be great if a courtroom could be like that, but sadly it’s not even close. All the factors which don’t matter in sports make their way into the law- as (perhaps) nowhere else. That makes sense. Laws are made by politicians. Judges are elected or appointed by politicians. Judicial decisions can have major political implications. The list goes on and on.

But, in sports, politics obliterates that pure competition that makes sports appealing.

Modern history has shown that the intrusion of politics into sports has harmed sports. It behooves all sports fans to reject the intrusion of politics into sports.

Avrum Aaron, COO of Legal Outsourcing Partners, LLC (, is a huge sports fan and would love to hear your opinion.


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One Comment
  1. Gurpreet Singh Kahlon permalink

    A very interesting article and though I agree, for the most part, that Sports and politics ought not to mix surely there are good examples of when they do. The example that first comes to mind is the boycott of sports with Apartheid South Africa. The Apartheid regime was itself interfering with “pure athletic competition” on account of its racist policies and the boycott against sporting contacts with that regime was surely a legitimate and effective political response? A specific example is the victory of the South African men’s tennis team in the 1970 Davis Cup final. Surely that result is better remembered for the fact that they “won” because India boycotted them? Even if you use “pure athletic competition” as the only reason to play sports it would have been difficult to justify playing an Apartheid era South African team…if they did not allow their own black/coloured athletes to play for South Africa how could any opposing team be sure they were playing against the best possible South African team? Of course the Apartheid’s regime went beyond racial segregation within their own teams. A good example is how the the boycott of South African Cricket was precipitated by the “Basil D’Oliveira Affair”. The South African’s cancelled a tour by the English Cricket team when they picked D’Oliviera (a South African of coloured heritage who had earlier emigrated to England). They even tried to pressurise England not to pick D’Oliviera.

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