There has been a lot of talk today about how next month’s European Football Championships are going to be held in countries well known for having racist football fan groups: Poland and Ukraine.
It’s not exactly breaking news, of course, but a special report on BBC this evening reignited the discussion. Former Arsenal defender, Sol Campbell, made the most newsworthy comments in an interview for the documentary: saying that fans of African descent that travel to the tournament could come back in coffins.
Britain’s Foreign Office had already issued a warning to those traveling to the tournament to take extra care. And Arsenal players Alex Oxlade-Chamberlin and Theo Walcott will not be bringing their families along, out of fear for their safety.
Reading all of the tweets and the articles today got me thinking, or rather, rethinking, my post from a few days ago about politics and sport.
In the original post, I derided the mixing of politics and sport, that it led too often to Munich ’72 or boycotts like Los Angeles ’84 that do nothing but punish the athletes. That, sometimes, yes, sport can heal and teach and transcend (Jesse Owens, for example) but we as sports fans were all better off if the two segments of modern society were kept separate from each other, that world leaders should not use sport as a weapon, and that sporting bodies should not preach from the football pitch.
And, it seems, in this case, unfortunately, UEFA agreed with me. Instead of telling Poland and Ukraine to get their houses in order if they want to host a major tournament, they are simply handing them the tournament, hoping that the spotlight will create discussion around the problems.
Which, when you think about it, is utter bullshit. Sport is one of the most powerful weapons on the planet, and it should be wielded as such. FIFA should tell the governments of the offending nations that countries accused of racist chanting in the terraces will be banned from hosting international tournaments. In this case, FIFA needs to get involved with politics, for not doing so is a gross misuse of their power.
Unfortunately, they didn’t and a week from Friday the tournament will open despite all the outcries from around the globe.
The only other realistic options are for the fans to stay home, or for the athletes to stay home. Neither of those are fair, honestly, when you think about it, as you would be punishing the wrong people; and we are too late anyway. The tournament is going to go on.
The point of this post is that I was wrong. Well, half wrong. Sporting bodies need to involve themselves in local politics. However, at the same time, keeping political bodies out of sport is imperative to the health of sport and athletics. It is not a two-way street, in other words.
And so what does all of this have to do with cricket? Well, not a great deal, but cricket has its racist past well: the rebel tours of South Africa, and Andrew Symonds, and the USACA, but I am not going to dive into that deep of the pool. It’s a post for another day. The point of this post was the correction above, and the reversal of my earlier stance. Thanks to the original commentors for sowing the seeds.
Also, in another bit of backtracking, I updated my post from this morning about cricketers killed in wars. I had kinda phoned it in, and they deserved better than that.