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Should Sports and Politics mix?

Politics and Sport both play a key role in society, and it may appear that there isn’t much crossover between the two, but they thrive off each other and often set precedents for one another. Although they both play very different roles within the modern world, when they collide it can sometimes cause controversy, split opinions and global news coverage.

For example, English football is governed by the English Football Association (FA), which is a not-for-profit organisation owned by the British government. Parliamentary laws are put in place to help govern the FA and determine what can and can’t be done within the game of football. In simple terms, politics and sport must work together to create a safe and fair environment for everyone within the sport, just like other industries. Legislation and politics can often help the sporting world, but let’s a look back on a few times where sports and politics have clashed, for better or for worse.

In 2020, Marcus Rashford used his platform to highlight the criminal job that the Conservative government was doing of feeding underprivileged families during the pandemic. This was a political issue because the government was only spending a fraction of the taxpayer’s budget on food packages that were being given to struggling families heavily affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Rashford used his social media following to raise awareness on the issue and even launched a successful parliamentary petition called “#EndChildFoodPoverty” which gained over a million signatures.

Rashford debated with politicians on Twitter and gained mass respect around the world for his work, which led to millions of children having improved access to food and even earned him an MBE. This is a prime example of sport and politics mixing, as the England international took on the Conservative government in a plea to help those less fortunate than them.

In 2018, NBA superstar LeBron James featured on an “Uninterrupted” podcast with fellow NBA star, Kevin Durant, to voice his concerns about the racial inequality that has plagued America (and beyond) for years. James expressed his discontent over President Trump’s time in office, stating “The No. 1 job in America, the appointed person is someone who doesn’t understand the people” and that his comments were often “laughable and scary”.

Fox News journalist, Laura Ingraham, then responded by telling James to “shut up and dribble”, which inadvertently became a slogan for American athletes fighting for justice in the struggle with racial inequality and prejudice. Ingraham’s comments received fierce backlash, but many agreed with her, stating that James and others should not play the role of political freelancers. It seemed Ingraham’s only problem with James’ comments was that they didn’t align with her own political viewpoint, being an outspoken supporter of President Trump.

The fact that Ingraham’s comments became a slogan for the very thing she tried to dismiss, speaks volumes about the power of people’s voices and what they can achieve together. Athletes around the world came to the aid of LeBron and supported his viewpoint, proving that sport does have a part to play within politics.

The police killing of George Floyd in 2020 was the tipping point that saw global protests and growth of the Black Lives Matter campaign in an effort to raise awareness and put an end to racial prejudice. Sports leagues around the world supported the movement and took the knee before games to show solidarity with a minority group who were tired of being marginalised by society, a wider issue in politics.

Racism in sports is a whole different issue, but they share similar principles. Players and fans have been encouraged to speak up against racism, so why shouldn’t players and fans be encouraged to tackle other political issues? If the role of politics is to consider everyone’s best interests, then it is unfair to assume that sport and politics shouldn’t mix. It could be argued that sport and politics must mix to ensure that every demographic is considered and involved with key decisions.

Sports around the world rely on their government to intervene and help when they can, so why shouldn’t the political world do the same? Athletes and sporting icons around the world can use their platform to help bridge the gap between politicians and the rest of society. Although they are clearly two very different players in society, the link between sports and politics should not be underestimated. We’ve already seen the impact one can have on the other, and the importance of ensuring politics represents the entire population.

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