Should sports­men carry the bur­den politi­cians refuse to?

Of­ten sport is pol­i­tics by other means, the 1936 Olympics in Ber­lin un­der Hitler be­ing a good ex­am­ple. In­ter­na­tional sports­men must tread care­fully.

Sportstar - - LAST WORD - SURESH MENON

On In­dia’s first tour of South Africa, it struck me as Kapil Dev was pre­par­ing to bowl the first de­liv­ery that this would be the first time non­whites were watch­ing the ac­tion from be­hind the bowler’s arm. Nel­son Man­dela re­called how as a young man he had vo­cif­er­ously sup­ported Neil Har­vey when Aus­tralia toured — but from within cages square of the wicket where the nonWhites were herded.

I asked Sir Colin Cow­drey, then ICC Pres­i­dent how he and his team had re­acted to such an ar­range­ment when Eng­land toured in the 1950s. “We never mixed pol­i­tics with sport,” he replied a bit stiffly. And I felt deeply dis­ap­pointed be­cause Cow­drey had been a boy­hood hero of mine.

Only the ter­mi­nally naive or the self­serv­ing can pre­tend that pol­i­tics and sport do not mix. In the 1970s, the great Garry Sobers trav­elled to racist Rhode­sia to play cricket. It nearly rup­tured re­la­tions within and out­side the Caribbean. Guyana threat­ened to ban him, and even In­dia briefly con­sid­ered pulling out of the 1970­71 tour if Sobers were to play. “Had I known the furore my visit would have caused, I would not have gone,” said Sobers, af­ter ten­der­ing a for­mal apol­ogy. He was called “po­lit­i­cally un­con­scious” by Ja­maican Prime Min­is­ter Michael Man­ley.

Is be­ing “po­lit­i­cally un­con­scious” rea­son enough for an in­di­vid­ual sports­man to visit a coun­try for sport, an ac­tion which would au­to­mat­i­cally lend le­git­i­macy to the acts of its gov­ern­ment? The ques­tion is in the air as I write this, and ten­nis stars No­vak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal pre­pare to visit Saudi Ara­bia for an ex­hi­bi­tion match in De­cem­ber. The al­leged mur­der of a jour­nal­ist by Saudi Ara­bia in their Con­sulate in Is­tan­bul raises many ques­tions. Should sports­men carry the bur­den politi­cians refuse to? It is a dif­fi­cult ques­tion; let’s just say that those who do are de­serv­ing of greater re­spect.

On the other hand, can sport be played only in ideal democ­ra­cies without skele­tons in their cup­boards? Do such coun­tries even ex­ist? Sport is an ideal world, even a fan­tasy world. When it comes up against the real world, the rules of the lat­ter should ap­ply.

Coun­tries have a way of at­tract­ing sports­men who claim to be po­lit­i­cally un­con­scious — look at the rebel tours of South Africa. Even a man with the con­vic­tion of Muham­mad Ali, who had lost the best years of his ca­reer be­cause he re­fused to fight in Viet­nam, didn’t see the irony in tak­ing on Ge­orge Fore­man in the ‘Rum­ble in the Jun­gle’ in Zaire. It gave the coun­try’s dic­ta­tor Mobutu Sese Seko the oxy­gen of pub­lic­ity.

Of­ten sport is pol­i­tics by other means, the 1936 Olympics in Ber­lin un­der Hitler be­ing a good ex­am­ple. In­ter­na­tional sports­men must tread care­fully.

AFP

In a dilemma: Ten­nis stars No­vak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are sched­uled to visit Saudi Ara­bia for an ex­hi­bi­tion match in De­cem­ber. The al­leged mur­der of a jour­nal­ist by Saudi Ara­bia in their Con­sulate in Is­tan­bul raises many ques­tions.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.