October 01, 2017

Horse 2328 - Sport Has Always Been Political

Some time today, a chap who I've never heard of called Mackelmore (which sound to me like a new mackerel burger at that Scottish fast food restaurant with the goofy looking clown), sang a song which I've never heard of, at the Grand Final of a sport that I don't like, and thanks to the miracle of digital television I can not watch because the reception here is non existent.
The song "Same Love" is apparently the NRL's attempt to weigh in on the same sex marriage postal survey; which is daft considering that most people have already received their survey and sent it back already.

What I've found somewhat baffling is the comments being made by the political cultural right about all of this. Queensland Senator and repeat enfant terrible Pauline Hanson, came out and said that she objected to Mr Macklemore's​ song before adding that she like me hadn't a clue as to who he was and wouldn't be watching anyway. Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott complained that Mr Mackelmore's song would be politicising sport; Attorney General George Brandis pointed out that in a civilised society where the right to free speech exists, if the NRL wanted to make such a statement then even though he disagreed with it, he was fine with them voicing an opinion.
Tony Abbott's comment about sport being politicised although completely valid and true, actually misses one rather obvious fact - history. Probably since the invention of sport it has been politicised and this is but one of a very long chain of sport which has been wedded to politics.

The ancient Greeks with their Olympic Games, certainly married politics and sport. The winning of wreaths acted as yet another propaganda piece as the various city states vied for power and glory. The Mayans tied sport and religion together, with the winner of some of their games winning all the clothes of everyone else present in the stadium. The Romans were far more organised, with various arenas and colosseums used as very public displays of the power of the empire; with undesirables being made to face each other in combat for the entertainment of those in the grandstands.

More recently, the revived Olympic Games were first run in conjunction with World's Fairs, to show off the technical prowess of various nations; with Hitler wanting to host the 1936 Olympics as a monument to the might and power of the Third Reich. The 1980 Olympics were held in Moscow and the 1984 Winter Olympics were held in Sarajevo, for pretty much the same reason. Formula One Grands Prix have been held in countries who were formerly on the dismal side of the Iron Curtain to show that those countries had arrived as a power in the modern world.

Equally, you can point to the boycott of South Africa because of apartheid by a lot of sporting teams as being so for political reasons, as was Tommie Smith's and John Carlos' black power salute at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics also done as a very visible political​ statement. Colin Kaepernick's simple protest against police brutality against black people, by kneeling while the national anthem is playing has become an issue which has gone straight to the top, even drawing the ire of the President himself.

Indigenous rounds in the NRL and AFL are political in tone, with the sporting bodies wanting to paint themselves as heroes for their inclusion of indigenous peoples. Of course, when someone like Adam Goodes actually took a stand against systemic racism in the AFL, he found that the actual support from those sporting bodies fell well short of the image that they were promoting. When the suggestion that a statue of Nicky Windmar be put up just outside the MCG, of that famous incident when he lifted his jersey and pointed with pride at the colour of his skin, the AFL also turned that down, in yet another show of how hollow their whitewash of history is.

Given that the NRL is primarily in the business of selling tickets and advertising space, with sport being the vehicle by which they sell these things, it surprises me not that they have taken a position which they see as popular. I have no problem whatsoever with the inclusion of an overtly political message at a sporting event because probably since the beginning of organised sport, there has always been politics lurking around in the change rooms. This is no different and no matter what the cultural right says, fine. It takes something pretty odd for me to agree with George Brandis but here we are.

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