‘Why don’t you just keep your politics out of sport?’ at face value is a statement not many of us can actively disagree with. Why should politics have any place within sports? Well - we need to look deeper - as we always do.
Politics cannot be totally removed from sport - because we, as a society, have chosen to add politics as a catalyst to sport, and on the opposite plane, we have added sporting culture into our politics. We cannot separate the two, as the two; for better or for worse, are bonded.
The reason for this article appearing on this particular blog and not in my meandering ramblings on Twitter is because Aston Villa’s CEO Keith Wyness waded into the debate. This article is absolutely not an attack on our CEO, whose comments could be taken in a multitude of different ways - but more an examination of the political nature of ‘the sports’.
Please keep politics and politicians out of sport— keith wyness (@retsub12) September 24, 2017
Sports, are by default, inherently political. Sports decided our leaders, our heroes and our community champions in the same manner that elections do now. We cannot simply remove the politics from the sport, because the reasons we get invested in politics - the narrative and what it means to us - are part of the reason we get involved in sports, the narrative and what it means to us. While sports are more dramatic, politics are life-changing. The two are forever entwined in a way that is easy to understand, but hard to pin down.
So, when community leaders say things that can be taken in many ways, it’s rather scary. Nobody is saying there’s an inherent evil in not being clear with your words, but it’s being dicey with them that allows that hate to rise to the top. When Wyness says ‘keep your politics out of sports and your politicians out of sports’ - well, we can’t.
In the manner that people use the sports leagues and teams of the world to reflect their views, in the manner that superstars air their beliefs via platforms - we cannot take any kind of politics out of sport, or we cannot stop any kind of politician from saying stupid things - because to take politics out of sports bleeds the narrative and it kills the belief we have in our heroes to be greater than human. Could we imagine Muhammed Ali with his mouth sewn shut? Or that all the Irish kids turn their back on James McClean because he turns his back on his community in favour of a politically neutral environment? Could we face Jesse Owens toning down his ability to allow the Nazi athletes to win so that he may save face? Or what about the Black Panthers on the podium on that fateful summer night? Do they no longer hold their fists up in defiance or solidarity?
Do we not allow our leaders to say disagreeable things so that a nation can finally rise up in defiance? Do we not allow anything to be said? In attempting to protect the perceived fragility of our game, we strangle it. Passions in sport, whether you like it, will be fueled by politics in some way or another and that is unavoidable.
While we wouldn’t like our leaders to use the sports we love as a coin with which to barter favour, allowing nothing to be said at all allows those views to be hidden. Funnily enough, disagreeable folk across the world would harbour the agreeable view of ‘keeping politics out’ just so unfavourable views may stay just hidden enough when they need to be called out. Today, we see a far-right party slide through the backdoor into German politics, we see a leader call out minorities. If we do not hear these views, we cannot disagree with them nor can we fight them.
The problem, when someone we look up to, uses Twitter to slam something - there is no room for failure. Stupid things will get hammered and views are not clear. Twitter is a horrendous tool for discourse, and if you’re going to say something that could potentially be taken in a multitude of ways, it needs to be explained - or not said at all.
Unfortunately, Keith - we cannot take political slants out of football or sports, because they are natural bedfellows. What we should do is say what we mean, always, and not be afraid to pin our banners to our teams - like we do in sport. So that there’s a chance to grown and learn from the experiences of others via exposure. So that there may be a chance to allows those who need to be heard, to be heard - without filter nor bias. If we expect our sporting stars to be human, we must expect them, and allow them to express their beliefs, and for those not affected, the least we can do is take those protesting views on board.
Regardless of what your views may be, politics are going to be involved in sports, because people are involved in sports.