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Sport, Power and Politics

Nathan Fretwell: Lecture presentation - Sport, Power and Politics - Friday the 8th March 2013, London Metropolitan University (SS6073: Sport, Education and Society): Created by Nathan Fretwell

Nathan Fretwell

on 20 April 2015

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Transcript of Sport, Power and Politics

"Sport and politics should not mix"
Governing bodies within sport are themselves often responsible for introducing political agendas into sport...
Sporting boycotts - South Africa, Zimbabwe
Political campaigns - 'Let's Kick Racism Out of Football'
The recent FIFA ban on the England football team wearing poppies on their shirts
Sport, Power and Politics
Sports have always been political and continue to be so...
Consider, for example, the social class issues embodied in the conflict between amateurism and professionalism in sport.
Exclusion and discrimination, on the grounds of class, race, gender or sexuality, have been present from the very beginning of organised sport and are still with us today, despite efforts to make sport a more equal playing field.
Sport itself has a political function...
Reflects wider social and political concerns
Reproduces the dominant ideological make-up of society
And also, potentially, offers a means of resistance
"There have been those who have loved the dichotomies that try to divide life into watertight compartments - religion, politics, sport - imagining fondly that they were watertight and impervious to one another. But we know differently: politics impinges on sport as much as on any other aspect of life." (Desmond Tutu, 2008 Cowdrey Lecture)
Sport and Politics
At the Mexico Olympics in 1968, two American athletes - Tommie Smith and John Carlos - raise awareness of, and express solidarity with, the struggles of the black community in the USA
On the 4th June 1913, Emily Davison - a militant suffragette - runs out in front of the King's horse at the Epsom Derby
The 2008 Olympics in Beijing were dogged with a series of protests around the world
In a world cup qualifier taking place in South Korea in June 2009, several members of the Iranian national football team wear green wristbands in protest at the repression of the opposition movement in Iran
The British tennis player Laura Robson courts controversy at the 2012 Australian Open by wearing a rainbow coloured hairband in support of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Sport as Politics
Political Issues within Sport
Unity and Division within Sport
The Globalisation of Sport
Like any other major institution sport is embedded in a social and political context.
Sporting structures - the organising bodies, regulatory mechanisms and decision making powers of sports - are political structures.
Sport is itself political
Sport often requires collaboration across national borders and between both governments and independent bodies. As such it involves diplomatic and political processes at the highest level.
Sport is a global financial and economic powerhouse, a political force to be reckoned with.
Sporting events raise security and public order concerns and hence are subject to political intervention and control.
Sport is often a focal point for national identity, and other sectarian claims, in both their positive and negative senses.
Sport is often used as a political tool, as a bargaining chip between competing parties, or as a PR exercise helping curry favour with the electorate.
Access and Participation
Exclusion and Discrimination
Are all sporting events and sporting cultures open equally to everyone?
Should government play a proactive role in widening access and participation in sport?
What kinds of barriers to access and participation exist within sport?
Who are the principle stakeholders in sports - fans or shareholders?
Do we need greater financial regulation of sport?
What comes first - sport or the market?
Education and Health
Is the governance of sport democratic? Should it be?
Who contributes to the decision-making processes in sport?
What level of involvement should national/international governments and political bodies have in sport?
Whose role is it to eradicate discrimination and prejudice within sport?
Do human rights have a role to play in sport?
How can sport become more inclusive?
Is it the role of government to encourage us to become more active?
Who should pay for sports and leisure facilities?
What contribution should elite sports be making to the education and development of sport?
Tribalism in sport - football related violence for example

Sectarianism - sport reflecting and furthering already existing political, cultural, racial or religious divisions in society

Formally or informally, directly or indirectly, sport can exclude certain sections of a population from participating
Can help forge international links between communities on the basis of shared ideals like those promoted by the IOC

Can help to provide a focal point in multicultural communities to help foster a shared sense of national identity

Provides a platform for bringing together people from different backgrounds who would otherwise remain distant and have little opportunity to interact
Apartheid and Sport
Sport is perhaps more ambiguous in nature though. What can often be seen as a cohesive aspect of sport can from one angle be considered divisive from another.
The paradoxical, ambiguous nature of sport, is no more evident than in the role it played in the Apartheid regime in South Africa and the struggles that took place against it.

During the regime sport was one vehicle, amongst many others for dividing the population along racial lines. Highlighting how sport could be used as a tool of oppression.

The international support for a boycott of South African sporting teams, however, which took place in the 1970s and 80s, also reveals how effectively sport could be used for uniting people under a common goal.
An Alternative Model
Problems and Issues
Globalisation is a contested concept that encompasses various different ideas:

Greater Internationalisation
Economic liberalisation
Cultural homogenisation/universaliation
Elite sports become detached from their local contexts and fan-bases
Increasing commercialisation means that sporting agendas are often dictated by markets
National ties become less important than commercial ties
Muscle drains within sport
Decreasing diversity in sport
Greater media influence and control of sport
QUESTION: Should there be any restrictions on what sort of companies or businesses can sponsor sports?
Detracts from the social value of sport
"It is difficult to think of another cultural sector that has as wide and far-reaching potential to deliver local social value across the nation than football."
Supporters Direct was formed in 2000...Its goal is to 'promote sustainable spectator sports clubs based on supporters' involvement and community ownership'.

Supporters Direct aims to create the conditions in which supporters can secure influence and ownership of their clubs, and campaigns for the wider recognition of the social, cultural and economic value of sport clubs.

It believes that sports clubs and competitions are increasingly being put at risk by short-term vested interests, poor financial management and inadequate standards of governance.

It began its activities in English football but is now working in more than 20 different European countries, and also works in rugby league, rugby union and ice hockey.
QUESTION: Should sport and politics mix?
The Spanish football club Athletic Bilbao would be a case in hand. Effectively functioning as a national team for the Basque minority in Spain, they have a policy of only selecting players of Basque origin to play for the club.
QUESTION: Is there room for positive discrimination within sport?
The Politics of the Olympics
Lockdown London
11 Billion
Opposition to the Olympics
Policing Free Speech
Financing the Games
In small groups consider the following question with reference to the advantages and disadvantages of holding the Games:
Are the Olympics a good or a bad thing for the people of the UK?
"As a metaphor for the London Olympics, it could hardly be more stark. The much-derided "Wenlock" Olympic mascot is now available in London Olympic Stores dressed as a Metropolitan police officer. For £10.25 you, too, can own the ultimate symbol of the Games: a member of by far the biggest and most expensive security operation in recent British history packaged as a tourist commodity. Eerily, his single panoptic-style eye, peering out from beneath the police helmet, is reminiscent of the all-seeing eye of God so commonly depicted at the top of Enlightenment paintings. In these, God's eye maintained a custodial and omniscient surveillance on His unruly subjects far below on terra firma."
Stephen Graham, 'Olympics 2012 Security: Welcome to lockdown London', Guardian, Monday 12th March 2012
Facts and Figures
The security costs alone for the games are estimated at the £1 Billion mark
The security costs per athlete works out at £3500 per day and £59, 000 in total
13,500 military troops will be deployed during the Games, 4000 more than are currently fighting the war in Afghanistan
1000 armed service personnel from the USA will be patrolling Olympic zones
The Security Industry
The security industry is a massive beneficiary of the games
New security or surveillance technologies are developed and implemented (unmanned drones, for example)
In this respect, then, sport and major sporting events help proliferate and expand such technologies for control
Who or what is really being protected by this vast security machine - athletes, diplomats, the public, politicians, capital - and from whom?
The Surveillance Legacy
What happens to all the technology and hardware once the Games have finished? Will it simply be decommissioned?
The $300 million dollar security system put in place for the Athens Olympics, for example, now finds itself being deployed to quell the protests that have taken place in the aftermath of the financial crisis
"During the Games an aircraft carrier will dock on the Thames. Surface-to-air missile systems will scan the skies. Unmanned drones, thankfully without lethal missiles, will loiter above the gleaming stadiums and opening and closing ceremonies. RAF Typhoon Eurofighters will fly from RAF Northolt. A thousand armed US diplomatic and FBI agents and 55 dog teams will patrol an Olympic zone partitioned off from the wider city by an 11-mile, £80m, 5,000-volt electric fence."
Stephen Graham, Guardian, ibid.
"Looking at these various points together shows one thing: contemporary Olympics are society on steroids. They exaggerate wide trends. Far removed from their notional or founding ideals, these events dramatically embody changes in the wider world: fast-increasing inequality, growing corporate power, the rise of the homeland security complex, and the shift toward much more authoritarian styles of governance utterly obsessed by the global gaze and prestige of media spectacles."
Stephen Graham, Guardian, Ibid
The Tlatelolco Massacre: Shortly before the 1968 Games in Mexico, the games famous for Smith and Carlos' salute, between 200 and 300 student protestors, whose grievances included the massive funds spent on holding the Games, were massacred by government forces.
Save Leyton Marshes: Residents groups and Occupy London activists engage in direct action in opposition to the decision to allow a basketball training arena for the Olympics to be built on Leyton Marsh.
Our Olympics Campaign Group: At the end of February the Our Olympics group was formed to coordinate opposition to the 2012 Olympics. Their mission statement - 'to provide a hub for creating and promoting acts of civil disobedience around the London 2012 Olympics'
Article 50.3 of The Olympic Charter
"No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas."
Gives the IOC - an independent and undemocratically accountable body - power over certain aspects of domestic policy without any due democratic process or consultation.

Suspends basic civil liberties and rights, such as freedom of speech and the freedom of public assembly

Previously public places effectively become enclaves of a private institution, at least for the duration of the Games.
Source DCSM (see Telegraph, 5 Dec 2011
Original estimated costs of holding the Games: 2.37bn
Current estimated costs: circa 11bn
Is the use of public money and the pressure on public resources justified?

Who really benefits from the financial legacy of the Games?
"[N]eoliberalism is a web of ideas and beliefs that identifies a combination of free markets, political deregulation and privatization, individual self-interest, and inequality as the foundation for progress and all forms of development" (Coakley, 2011: 69)

"[N]eoliberalism...is closely associated with the emergence and support of elite, organized, competitive, commercial form of sports. In turn, these sports often are promoted and represented to establish, reaffirm, and reproduce neoliberal ideas and beliefs." (p.67)
"Elite sports] have also been used to reaffirm key ideas and beliefs in neoliberal ideology. These include (a) a belief in competition as the primary basis for assessing merit and allocating rewards, (b) the idea that victories in competitive reward structures are proof of ability and moral worth, and (c) a commitment to meritocracy and the belief that economic winners deserve power and privilege, whereas economic failure is due to poor choices or weak character. Taken together, these ideas and beliefs normalize status hierarchies and socio-economic inequality as inevitable products of merit-based differences." (Coakley, 2011: 75)
Recommendations for a critical sociology of sport:

1) Challenge, discredit, and eliminate myths about inherently positive qualities of sport and automatic positive consequences of sport participation;
2) Define the focus of study in the field so that our research does not unknowingly privilege elite, organized, competitive, commercial sports or reproduce them as an unquestioned dominant sport form worldwide;
3) Emphasize work that connects sports, sport organizations, sport programs, and athletes with other organizations and projects dedicated to learning about and taking actions to restore the public realms and promote the public good (Coakley, 2011: 81)
Read the article provided on the development of the new Wembley Stadium and try and identify some of the political issues and problems involved
Full transcript