Thursday 22 March 2018

Sport has been corrupted by politics - it's time to fight back

To call for Russia to be kicked out of the Rio Olympics has once again brought sport and politics together. Picture Credit: PA
To call for Russia to be kicked out of the Rio Olympics has once again brought sport and politics together. Picture Credit: PA

Ger Gilroy

It can feel churlish to worry about refereeing decisions or a misplaced pass or missed tackle in the aftermath of a coup or a terror attack or the markets wiping people's pensions out. Yet we do.

Make no mistake, though, sport and politics are intertwined. We're about to see the Olympics become a geopolitical minefield as Russia fight back against their proposed ban.

The Olympics as a platform for protest is nothing new. Last week on the show we wanted to talk about the brilliant new OJ Simpson documentary from ESPN, but we also wanted to talk about the role of Jesse Owens in the 1968 Games. We found the perfect guest.

Dr Harry Edwards was one of the most exuberantly illuminating people I've spoken to in my time on Off the Ball. He was a Black Panther in the 1960s and helped drive the iconic Black Power salute in Mexico in 1968.

He fought with Owens and OJ Simpson and white America and a load of people in between before initiating affirmative recruitment plans for first the San Francisco 49ers, then the Golden State Warriors and eventually Major League Baseball.

He took flak for that too. In his 70s now, he didn't seem too worried about criticism of his policies over the years.

We'd been interested in hearing about Owens' decision to work for the US Olympic Committee to seek to stop John Carlos and Tommie Smith from protesting.

Edwards, then in his early 20s, had attacked Owens in public for his stance and had felt the crack of Owens' pen in a full chapter of his autobiography.

Almost five decades later talking to us about Owens and OJ and the relationship between the police forces of America and their black citizens, Edwards was full of calm clarity.

He admitted regret about some of the things he'd said but reasoned that a young man in a hurry will say and do things for effect.

Things have changed but you can't necessarily call it progress, he said.

Edwards was at the epicentre of sport's intersection with politics at a time when people didn't fully understand the power of sport.

Today we've had sport corrupted by politics for generations and are jaded by it.

Russia should be kicked out of the Olympics but will most likely host a football World Cup. It makes no sense.

FIFA have engaged some of the world's most expensive reputation building agencies to rescue their perception globally. They could start by saying no to Russia.

Sport needed Carlos and Smith then and football and FIFA needs someone now.

Irish Independent

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