Giving a conscience to sport | The Emory Wheel
From the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in China to the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, 2022 has a heavy schedule in the sports landscape. These events usually attract millions of tourists and billions of the viewers. However, outside the world of sport, the governments of both countries have questionable human rights records.
In China, Uyghur Muslims, victims of population control and forced labor, are detained in detention camps. Qatar’s mistreatment of migrant workers building World Cup stadiums has sparked accusations of modern slavery. The political implications of the dichotomy between sport and politics at these global events have long been a matter of concern. conversationinviting a philosophical analysis of the circumstances.
According to Oxford associate professor of philosophy, Erin Tarver, “sport is [a practice] that human beings use to make sense of our world, to understand us and our place in it.
Tarver likened it to the unifying role that religion can play in a culture in that it provides specific rituals that shape the way people dress, the songs they sing, the way they mark time. and the flags they wave. In the long term, sport creates a sense of belonging and brings people together despite their different backgrounds. Like Dr. Cyril Wecht jokes in “Concussion”, “The NFL owns a day of the week, the same day the Church used to own.”
The influence of sport on our identity is high when applied on the international stage. In my experience in Mexico, the only two events that spark an explosion of love for our country are Independence Day and the FIFA World Cup. Tarver explained that the stakes are higher for international sports than local sports because “world history is replete with examples of leaders using the successes of their teams to foster a sense of nationalism among their citizens.” Countries illustrate this to varying degrees, but one example that stands out is Argentina’s victory in the 1978 World Cup, which was used to distract from state violence.
What does all this have to do with hosting a major international sporting event? Doing so is a secret way for countries to assert or achieve global cultural, political and economic importance. the Numbers don’t lie: the only Olympics host city to make a profit in the modern era was Los Angeles in 1984. Countries offered to host the Olympics knowing that it would probably be a bad financial decision, and they only do so because they want to gently build power and the ability to influence international behavior through attraction and persuasion. The more famous and recognizable a country is, the more it can influence other nations. Countries such as South Africa, Brazil, Qatar and Russia have seen in the organization of the World Cup an opportunity to Branding and strengthen national pride.
The interesting duality of sports is that while they seem competitive, they require a lot of cooperation. Determining the rules and limits of a game and recognizing an opponent as a legitimate opponent requires a certain respect between opponents, which is the magic of world sporting events. Countries that usually quarrel over politics or economics compete side by side. As a result, sports governing body organizations like the International Olympic Committee (IOC) intend to remain apolitical because they walk what Tarver called “a political tightrope, being able to maintain a sense of cooperation between people and countries with radically different points of view”. of what good politics looks like.
However, true apoliticism is almost impossible. When organizations like the IOC take neutral positions, they decide not to challenge the status quo. Neutral decisions like prohibition political protests during the Olympics have an effect and favor certain groups of people. In the National Football League, Colin Kaepernick protests were immediately seen as political, but singing a hymn, a ritual performed before every game, is also a political act.
Tarver argued that sport cannot be divorced from politics “because the human beings involved are fundamentally engaged in politics”. Even attending a sporting event takes a stand because it recognizes the opposition as worthy competition. Additionally, the Olympics have a history of countries and their athletes boycotting the games. At the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, 26 African nations participated in a boycott because the IOC refused to ban New Zealand, which had participated in a South African rugby tournament during the apartheid era. United States allies boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow at the height of the Cold War, and the Soviet Union returned the favor at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. This year, the United States has waged a diplomatic campaign boycott of the Olympic Games. Along with Australia, Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom and others, the United States did not send government officials to the games.
With such a half-hearted protest, the United States is trying to have it both ways. They want to express their disapproval of the human rights situation in China without harming the opportunities of competing athletes. No matter how noble the intention, neither a diplomatic boycott nor a total boycott will significantly change China’s conduct. Indeed, French President Emmanuel Macron did not support the boycott, calling it an insignificant gesture. Future attempts by countries to do what is morally right, regardless of the consequences, must involve taking a strong stand against injustice without harming innocent people.
British Olympic diver Tom Daley was on the right way when he said, “I think it shouldn’t be allowed to hold a sporting event in a country that criminalizes basic human rights.” Morality is subjective, but when gross violations of human rights occur, the nation that commits such crimes should not have the honor of hosting an international sporting event. It will protect innocent civilians from danger and only damage the guilty government. Although different countries have different understandings of what constitutes a human rights violation, committing genocide in China or practice homosexuality punishable by death in Qatar supersede any possible debate.
Countries like China and Qatar should suffer the consequences of their actions rather than be rewarded with a propaganda boost. The sports world’s reactions to Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine offer some hope: Russia has already been bare to host the final of the Champions League of the Union of European Football Associations and the Formula 1 Grand Prix. The president of the Polish Football Association refuses to play against the Russian football team. If such sentiments could also be extended to governments that violate human rights, the sports world could be on the right side of history.
We fans also have a responsibility to stay educated and rescind our support for criminal governments, even if we don’t have the power of an institution. Philosopher Michel Foucault’s maxim that “everything is not bad, but everything is dangerous” applies in this situation. Tarver said that while it is not inherently unethical to support sporting events hosted by countries with questionable practices, “it is important for us to reflect on how we participate in these things and to recognize their political status, and where we can use it or exploit it for the purpose of fighting injustice.
We can appreciate the incredible achievements of athletes around the world, but also support athlete activism. Ask relevant questions about the indirect effects that these sporting events can have. Denounce cruel governments. By working together, we the fans, the athletes and their countries can bring awareness to sport.