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Understanding the World Through Sports

Key points by Ioanna Georgia Eskiadi 

Sports can provide us a different aspect of the world and make us recognize the world through another point of view. Some weeks ago, powerful and rich soccer club owners in Europe realized the hard way – while their Super League initiative collapsed, a couple of days after it was supposed to be born – that sports generate tremendous passion, among millions of people, and have strong links to identity. In that case, fans and public opinion overcame the power of money. This shouldn’t be a surprise for club owners in Europe because sports are an extension of community and a show of national strength on an international stage. Sports and politics, as expressions of people’s interests and emotions, are connected.

Sports do go hand-in-hand with politics, but many people tend to conflate the two. Sports have been used to spread political narratives and, because of their popularity, will be always a useful tool for publicity and advocacy. In Malaysia, for example, sports and politics are integrated because government funds frequently go to sports. Another illustration of the political nature of sports, is the Olympics. In 1936, Hitler attempted to use the Olympics to show off his regime and its ideologies, but American track and field athlete Jesse Owens attempted to undermine his political statement by winning four gold medals, shifting the spotlight away from Hitler’s regime. 

Cricket is a major global sport that is mastered in post-colonial countries. Cricket was brought to India by British sailors, remained post-colonialism, and became a regional passion and launch pad for political careers. If you want to play cricket, you will likely have to learn from India, or be in India. This case is a reversion of the colonial model, now, there is a transition of power from western countries to eastern. In this new model, India has been able to weaponize cricket against Pakistan to isolate them during their disputes, then will use “cricket diplomacy” as a course diplomatic pressure to Pakistan. During the Covid-19 crisis in India, people are from both sides of the political spectrum, and both teams, have been deeply impacted exemplifying that sports are not about winning, but about respecting and recognizing one another. There is a significant anger shown in sports today, by fans, players, and clubs alike, but we should consider that we have the power to make sports a wonderful and inclusive space.

Despite the negatives, sports are still a mechanism for good. There is large political involvement to encourage youth to play sports as a means of advocacy and community engagement. In parallel, the rights of women in sports have been strengthened. Women’s football teams around the world were often a stereotype for weakness, but women’s teams have shown strength and power in their struggles for equal opportunities. The power of social media has changed the situation significantly, allowing players to engage with their fans and information to be disseminated quickly across the world. Sports broadcast images can be powerful tools, especially for nations who seek to be global forces of influence.

Although politics is inherently different than sports, both are systems to encourage and influence the masses and are frequently interwoven. Even though a lot of important steps have been taken to make sports equitable, still more has to be done, most importantly utilizing the original principals of sports, like respect.

You can watch the full discussion:

-Dr. Muqtedar Khan | Professor, University of Delaware | U.S.
-Dr. Lindsay Sarah Krasnoff | Consultant, Writer and Historian | U.S.
-Haresh Deol | Editor, Twentytwo13 | Malaysia
-Dr. Loic Tregoures, Political Science Professor, Catholic University of Lille, France 

This webinar is part of World Learning’s International Sports Programming Initiative (ISPI) —Virtual Together program, a series of virtual events, launched in the context of the COVID-19 crisis.

The webinar is produced by Digital Communication Network South-East Europe Hub and World Learning.