CAHAL CARVILL: Sport and politics

AHEAD of their Euro’s opener last week at Wembley Stadium, the players of tournament favourites England all took a knee in a gesture highlighting their opposition to racism in the game. At this stage in proceedings sections of the Wembley crowd booed the act, while the Croatia players remained standing.

The justification for the booing had been levelled by some supporters as a backlash to the attempt to spread certain political dogmas throughout the game. The accusation levelled at the English players and the FA has been fervently disputed with both camps confirming that the act is not ‘aligned to a political organisation or ideology.’

The old adage as to why sport and politics don’t mix is permeated with the idea that sports are the refuge from the political conflicts of the times. What people want is to innocently lose themselves for a few hours in a contest that does not carry the weight of the whole world’s troubles on its shoulder.

People want to enjoy sport which is a break, a release from the ills of this world, and don’t want a political message rammed down their throat as part of those couple of hours of escapism. People want to see feats of athleticism, skill and theatre that only sport can offer. The ‘Republicans buy sneakers too’ philosophy.

The only problem with that is no one – be they sports stars or the man on the street – lives in a vacuum. Lines where sport, society, community, politics, justice and inequality converge and diverge are not clean. They don’t fall within neat little boxes with individuals only allowed to comment or take from singular boxes.

Particularly on the island of Ireland, our sporting heroes, be they in the GAA or otherwise, are shaped, as the sports they play are shaped by history, by their experiences and by the noise of policy.

Looking back in history, some of the world’s most defining political moments were shaped around sport, think of Tommie Smith and John Carlos making the Black Power fist salute at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, think of ping-pong diplomacy when Glenn Cowan, the American ping-pong player, mistakenly boarded the Chinese team bus at the 1971 World Table Tennis Championship in Nagoya, Japan, an act that led to the thawing of China-American relations, or the great Jessie Owens winning four gold medals at the 1936 Munich Olympics in front of superior race tooting Adolf Hitler.

Sport and politics cannot be separated and political activism and the strive for justice should be something embraced by GAA players and members. It is more important now than ever for our GAA heroes to take a stance on serious social justice and political issues in an attempt to enact change.

Earlier this week, thousands of people from Donegal and Mayo travelled to Dublin to make their voices heard by the Government in the south, those who made the journey are seeking 100 per cent redress for the terrible impact of mica on their crumbling family homes.

Leaving aside the pandemic restrictions on gatherings down south, and what is deemed as illegal but agreeable and what is deemed as illegal but not agreeable, it was great to see GAA stars of the past and present in attendance too show their support for the innocent people affected.

The pictures that have been circulating on social media and the concerted campaign by the current Donegal and Mayo teams to voice their support for those impacted within their communities is heart-warming and is an example of why, as sporting figures, political activism is to be encouraged and admired.

We have often lamented the boring, stage-managed responses that GAA players give to the media nowadays, in most instances the players interviewed answer questions like they’ve just received a terminal diagnosis.

Speaking one’s mind and highlighting a cause or a view you believe in should be encouraged and GAA players especially should be more vocal on social justice or political issues, noting they (for the most part) are not curtailed by their corporate sponsors.

Politics and sport should mix and players should be interested and encouraged to take a greater interest in the politics of their area and to get more involved in social and community initiatives.

Taylor Swift’s biographical documentary on Netflix, ‘Miss Americana’, covers the moment which she took a political stand on a senate race in her home state in Tennessee.

As the cameras roll she publicly issues her support for Democratic candidate Phil Bredesen in his race against Republican, Marsha Blackburn, who constantly voted for laws that diminished women’s rights within the state. Following the tweet, then President Donald Trump came out and said that he liked Taylor’s music “25 per cent less.”

The Donegal and Mayo GAA communities should be commended for their campaign and for working with those affected by mica; the example set should be used as an archetype of how the GAA and its members can take a stand on issues of concern which adversely impact the communities which form the bedrock of the GAA.

Players and high-profile members have a platform and should not be kowtowed in to towing the line and not speaking out.

We as individuals have a responsibility to make our mark during our time on the planet and current and past players should not be afraid to use their profile to make this world a better place. To adopt the words of Sylvia Earle, the American marine biologist, oceanographer author and explorer:

“Most positive things that bring about change in human civilisation start with someone. Some ‘one.’ A no one can do everything, but everyone can do something.”

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