Sports or politics? Lessons from two nations...

More often than not, sports have shown to have a life and significance beyond the realm of  “sports”. Defined as a form of “physical activity” and mostly coupled with culture and media by world governments, sports is often seen as a form of  “entertainment” for its audience. The tragic events at Port Said earlier this month where the Al-Masry met Cairo’s Al-Ahly for a football match, was far from the description above when it turned into a debacle with 74 dead and many more injured. More sadly, it was yet another moments in history where politics killed innocent lives and the sport became the “murderer”.

To me personally, the incident was a stark and painful reminder of the attacks on the Sri Lankan team in Pakistan and the Pakistani driver who lost his life. It is still unclear who was behind those attacks but it was extremely clear that this wasn’t sparked by hatred for the Sri Lankan, probably the only team after Pakistan that Pakistanis actually have a sense of affection for. There was “politics” in play and it won in its aim of hampering the morale of Pakistanis, a proud nation that breathes cricket.

Egyptians, too, are a proud nation whose self-confidence was further boosted in the revolution earlier last year. Like cricket is for Pakistanis, Egyptians too breathe football. And like the Sri Lankan team attack killed the sport in Pakistan, it has marred football in Egypt too. The Al-Ahly team’s goal keeper immediately came out saying they would be unable to play the sport again knowing it killed 74 Egyptians. The tournament, for very obvious reasons, had been called off indefinitely. Like Pakistanis, Egyptians are convinced 74 people don’t just die due to football match riot and “other hands” are involved. Al-Ahly fans were amongst the fore-front revolutionaries whose protests led to Mubarak’s ouster.

Andrew Strenk in his paper called “What Price Victory? The World of International Sports and Politics” points out quite rightly that there has been “a long tradition of mixing sports and politics which dates all the way back to the ancient Greeks. The development of the Turner movement in the German states of the 19th century, the rise of the Sokol movement in neighboring Bohemia, and the formation of the International Olympic Committee by Baron Pierre de Coubertin later in the same century all served to reinforce earlier traditions linking sports to politics. The result of these developments was to produce a war without weapons.”

Pakistan and India have been playing this war for years now where every loss is felt painfully across the world and every victory hailed as a victory of many sorts beyond “sports.” Andrew Strenk will have to reconsider his thoughts today. Unfortunately, as politics becomes more volatile, perhaps even more militarized than before, weapons are demonstrating a direct impact on sports too. When 74 lives are lost at a football match, its not a war without weapons.

Unfortunately, in this war who loses the most? It is the sport and the people! In Pakistan, cricket lost and Pakistanis lost as the label of a “terrorist” nation became difficult to shed off. In Egypt, football lost and the people did when many on Twitter and elsewhere voiced their concern at media showing Egyptians as “violent.” The sooner we realize that sports is beyond sports, and its politicization may lead to its weaponization the sooner we can protect our only ray of genuine happiness.


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