“Keep politics out of sport” is a slogan we’re hearing a lot of again, thanks to the controversies over historical tweets by members of the England cricket team, and some booing of the “taking the knee” protests by the English and Welsh teams, though not the Scots, in the run-up to the Euro 2020 football championship. The truth, though, is that sport and politics have always been tangled up, particularly at the international level.
We can think, for example, of the 1936 Berlin Olympics and Jessie Owens, the boycott of apartheid-era South Africa and the athlete Zola Budd, of the Moscow Olympics of 1980 and the Los Angeles games four years later, when the US and Soviet blocs applied sanctions to one another, and right up to the design of the Ukraine football shirt for the Euros, depicting the Crimea as part of Ukrainian sovereign territory. Images such as the England football team making the Nazi salute at a “friendly” match in 1938, or Tommie Smith and John Carlos giving the Black Power salute on the podium at the Mexico Olympics in 1968 remain stark and powerful decades on. Politics doesn’t stay out of sport for long. It can’t.
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