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PACBI-Using sport as a political weapon

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India eNews | January 17, 2007

Using sport as a political weapon

Although most people would agree that politics and sport should not be mixed, few would disagree with the statement that they do. Most sporting organisations jealously guard against any political interference and football's world controlling body FIFA, for instance, has time and again suspended members if any overtly political interference becomes known.

Only last year, Iran was briefly suspended by FIFA because of government interference in football structures there.

But despite the best efforts of sporting organisations, history is littered with incidents where political pressure has been applied through sports.

While Adolf Hitler used the 1936 Olympic Games to showcase Nazi Germany and his fascist ideology, after the Second World War sporting events were used more and more as a means of political protest, with the boycott the weapon of choice.

Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon boycotted the 1956 Melbourne Olympics in protest at the Suez war while Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands withdrew over the Soviet invasion of Hungary.

Five years later, FIFA suspended South Africa over its apartheid policies. South Africa was banned from Olympic competition by the time of the 1964 Tokyo Games and six years later, the International Cricket Council followed suit.

In 1976, Tanzania led 22 African countries in a boycott of the 1976 Montreal edition because of the presence of New Zealand, which had sent a rugby team to tour South Africa.

Political boycotts now seemed to be on the verge of crippling the Olympic movement as the US, followed by West Germany and Japan, boycotted the Moscow Olympics in 1980 in protest at the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

The Soviet bloc retaliated by boycotting the Los Angeles Olympics four years later while North Korea, Cuba, Ethiopia and Nicaragua refused to send athletes to the 1988 Seoul Games.

While the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War seemed to mark the end of this particular boycott cycle, sporting events were still used to apply political pressure on certain countries.

The Olympic Council of Asia refused to allow Iraq to compete at the 1990 Asian Games in Beijing because of its invasion of Kuwait while in 1994, Denmark became European champions by winning a final tournament they had not even qualified for.

The Scandinavians had finished second in their qualifying group behind Yugoslavia. However, shortly before the start of the finals the UN imposed sanctions against Yugoslavia and UEFA decided to bar them from the finals, inviting Denmark instead.

One person who believes sporting boycotts are a useful weapon in forcing countries to address political issues they would otherwise likely ignore is Joe Ebrahim, former president of the South African Council of Sport (SACOS), the major anti-apartheid sporting organisation in the country.

Ebrahim says that while the principle of political non-interference in sport is a correct one, the reality is different.

'I think one of the striking examples at the moment is Israel where you find that Israel is accepted internationally in the sports world and yet people don't recognise that Israel is actually in many ways an oppressor in terms of Palestine and the Palestinian people,' he says.

The South African says that Israel might not be the only country where a sport boycott might be appropriate.

'There are other countries - if one goes around the world you are going to find situations where you can justify it on the basis that the countries are aggressors and that they are invading neighbouring countries.

'There are also examples where countries are acting oppressively in so far as the local population is concerned.'

He concedes though that it makes little sense to use a sports boycott if the country is not prominent in sport. 'Unless they are very prominent in sport than it does not have much effect.

'It wont achieve much is a country is ranked something like 180th in the world ranking in comparison to a country that is say in the top 50 of the rankings.

'A sports boycott will not work in all instances, that one also has to recognise, so you have to look at the circumstances, look at where that country is in terms of international sports contact.'

- By DPA

Posted on 18-01-2007

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