Oct 25, 2012

Sport – Beyond Politics


Daniella Mogilner

Staff Writer


As October draws to a close and the winter coats are introduced to the wardrobe, the summer appears to be well and truly over, and it is now that I have started to reflect on the amazing achievements of the sporting world these past few months. I am thinking, however, not of the immense physical achievements of the sportsmen and women that have dominated our television screens during the summer period, but rather the achievements that these athletes have made in uniting the world.

The Olympic games, in particular, have demonstrated how sport can bring nations together in ways that look past the politics of the moment and look instead to the pure enjoyment of a truly great spectacle. This accomplishment, however, has been evident in sport for quite some time and the events of the summer have only proved to remind us of this secret weapon to be found within sporting successes.

During the Olympic games, nationalism was not about propelling animosity towards other nations, but rather about loving one’s own; seeing Jamaica achieve all three medals in the 200 meter sprint finals did not ignite a bout of racism, but rather made us all wish we were waving that flag of green, yellow and black. Saudi Arabia’s usual patriarchal society was forgotten whilst the whole crowd routed for their sole female athlete as she crossed the line in the 800 metres – her victory in simply competing, being just as sweet as if she had won. We are so used to associating the word ‘nationalism’ with negativity, that one forgets that to be proud of where one comes from – uniting in that feeling does not have to lead to discrimination and racism.

This sense of national pride during the Olympics, however, did not just stop at one’s own nation – it extended to neighbouring ones as well. The usual animosity between Ireland and Britain was forgotten in the excitement of the Olympics. In the Excel arena, the Irish tricolour and Union Jack were flying side by side as the crowd screamed in unison for Katie Taylor as she boxed to golden victory.

These recent examples of the unifying force of sport have encouraged me to take a closer look at past achievements made in this sphere. It appears that patriotism and the unity involved in sports is not unique to the Olympics. The activities of the summer, although exceptional both in terms of the achievements of sport (and sportsmanship), do not stand alone; sport has forever been making stands to unite people in spite of their politics.

One of the most iconic moments of the First World War was the Christmas day football match between the Allied and German soldiers. Men that had, the previous day, been fighting to the death put down their weapons to share in ‘the beautiful game’- united through a pure love for football.

These instances are again though, not unique to the past. Union through sport is evident today in the Irish rugby team. Republic of Ireland players play alongside their Northern neighbours, singing “Ireland’s Call” as a substitute national anthem to combine the two nations. The strained politics, which has dogged these two countries for a century, is forgotten in the try-scoring dream team of Brian O’Driscoll and Tommy Bowe.

Thus, this summer’s sporting achievements have reminded us of the power of physical activity at its best. Through sport, nationalism does not have to be the extreme political viewpoint of a minority but can instead, be simply about painting yourself green in support of your compatriots. It cannot solve all the political tensions in the world but, for the 10 seconds that it takes to run 100 metres or the 80 minutes played in a rugby game, we can lose ourselves in the spectacle at hand and the world and its issues seem far away.



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