With the Shiv Sena in grab-the-eyeballs mode, protesting against Pakistan players in the Hockey League and promising to disrupt matches if Pak plays at the forthcoming ICC Women’s World cup, the naïve are once again protesting about how sport should not mix with politics.
Yet, history has shown us that the sporting stage has always been a platform for making political statements. Take for instance, the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics where superpowers USA and the Soviet Union played tit-for-tat. In 1980, the US did not send a team to the Moscow Olympics. Then, the Soviet Union stayed away in 1984. As early as 1936, US superstar athlete Jesse Owens arrived in Berlin to compete for the United States in the Olympics.
It was a Games meant to show the world a resurgent Nazi Germany and to tout Aryan racial supremacy. Owen’s four-gold medals punctured Adolf Hitler’s propaganda. The story of the 1972 Munich Olympics is written in blood. It was here that Palestinian militants killed Israeli athletes after storming the Olympic village the most potent and deadly message of how the Israel-Palestine problem was brought to the world via the sporting route.
In 2008, Tibetan protesters and Free Tibet sympathisers were responsible for several disruptions to the 2008 Beijing Olympics Torch relay, as it went to several countries before reaching Beijing before the Olympics. As recently as 2009, Israel-Palestine was back in the news as Israel’s top women’s tennis player and world number 45, Shahar Peer, was denied a visa by the UAE to compete in Dubai, as protests erupted around the sporting world.
It is upto the host country to ensure absolute security for all visiting players and athletes. It would be a shame if athletes are injured or hurt, paying the price for political problems or policy that they have little control over.
Once governments make a decision to clear the way for athletes or players of a country to visit, protecting players is paramount. Protesters, too, should realise that while making a statement peacefully may not give you as many headlines, visitors being harmed or injured within the boundaries of their countrywould bring nothing but national shame.