By Elume Raymond
On the 7th January 2009, Sevilla striker Freddie Kanouté used a Copa Del Rey match against Deportivo La Coruna as the backdrop to publicize his message of support for the Palestinian people during the constant skirmishes in Gaza with Israel. The Malian striker scored Sevilla’s second goal of the night (match ended 2-1), lifted his shirt to reveal his undershirt which had “Palestine” written across it. Kanouté, a devout Muslim, as may have been expected, was shown a yellow card for his behaviour; however the forward took his booking on the chin for his greater goal of publicizing his political message.
The Spanish football federation fined Kanouté 3000 euros (1.95M FCFA). “It was something that I felt that I should do”, said the forward. “Everyone should feel a bit responsible when there is such a big injustice. “I am 100 per cent responsible for what I did and I don’t care about the sanction”.
On 14th December 2012, popular online journal, Jeune Afrique captioned: “Palestine, Kanouté rate son but” (Palestine, Kanouté misses his goal –Editor’s note). Frédéric Kanoute launched a petition denouncing the organisation of a UEFA competition in Israel (under-21 Euro 2013) which 62 professional footballers had signed (even though Didier Drogba, Andre and Jordan Ayew, Rod Fanni, Gaël Angoula, Steve Mandanda, Yohan Cabaye, Anthony le Tallec, Souleymane Diawara, later denied this information). Kanouté regretted that UEFA turns a blind eye to the recent Israeli offensive in Gaza and denounced the death of four people during the bombardment of the Palestine stadium in Gaza on November 10 2012. Then he continues: “unfortunately, a minority of emails and social media comments criticize us, the signatories for positions shared by many citizens in Europe and around the world. It is really sad that people are trying to pressure us and our clubs to silence footballers and thus censor our freedom of thought. Freedom of expression and the proper functioning of the law are fundamental components of a democratic society.”
Russia versus the World
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began in the early morning hours on 24th February 2022, when President Vladimir Putin launched a “special military operation” into a country of about 44 million. He claimed the Russian military seeks ¨demilitarization and denazification¨ but not occupation; attacks shortly followed from multiple fronts and targeted toward multiple cities.
As Russia continues its invasion of Ukraine, various international sports organisations have begun imposing sanctions on the country and its Athletes:
– The International Paralympic Committee for the 2022 Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing
– FIFA and UEFA suspend Russian international and club teams from their competition till further notice
– World Motor Sport Council, FIA and Formula One ban on motorsports and cancellation of Russian F1 Grand Prix scheduled September 25 this year
– World Athletics Council banned all Russian athletes from competing in World Athletics Series events
– International Tennis Federation suspending the Russian Tennis Federation from ITF membership and participation in ITF international team competition till further notice
– UEFA shifts champions league final from St Petersburg to Paris
– IOC calls for stripping Russia of host status for sports events
– International Judo Federation suspends Russian President as its honorary President
– Adidas, maker of Russian national football team jerseys, suspended its partnership with the federation.
Gazprom, a prominent UFFA competitions sponsor, has been withdrawn from Schalke 04, Manchester United and UEFA competitions as sponsors.
– Other sporting sanctions include Archery, Badminton, Baseball and Softball, Basketball, Biathlon, Canoeing, Curling, Cycling, Hockey, Ice hockey, Pentathlon, Rowing, Rugby, Sailing, Skating, Skiing, Surfing, Triathlon, Volleyball.
The sport restrictions have drawn sharp criticism from Russia. “Our country (Russia-Editor’s Note) has always adhered to the principle that sports is beyond politics, but we are constantly drawn into the politics, because they (sporting federations-editor’s note) understand the importance of sport in the lives of our Russian people“, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko, who was stripped of an IOC honour for organizing the 2014 Sochi Olympics, said at a sports ministry meeting.
The governing body of track and field is run by Sebastian Coe. As an athlete, Coe defied calls to boycott the 1980 Moscow Olympics because of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan and won a gold medal in the 1,500 meters. “I have railed against the practice of politicians targeting athletes and sport to make political points when other sectors continue about their business,” Coe said. “This is different as governments, business and other international organizations have imposed sanctions and measures against Russia across all sectors. Sport has to step up and join these efforts to end this war and restore peace. We cannot and should not sit this one out.”
The governing bodies of three Olympic sports – Fencing, Shooting and Boxing – are led by Russians. So far, only shooting has barred Russian athletes from competing. The billionaire president of the International Fencing Federation, Alisher Usmanov, said he would “suspend the exercise of my duties….until justice is restored” after being sanctioned by the European Union.
The Egyptian Mohamed Aboutrika has criticized FIFA for failing to punish Israel after barring Russia from participating in all football competitions. In an interview with Quds News Network, Aboutrika said: “The decision to suspend Russian clubs and teams in all competitions should be accompanied by a ban on those associated with Israel, which has been killing children and women in Palestine for years”. FIFA has at times ignored other international disputes in the past, which has led to Aboutrika’s frustration and called for ‘double standards’. In fact, Palestine repeatedly urged FIFA to take action against Israel. This is because Israel has repeatedly violated international law. However, FIFA did not heed Palestine. In a 2016 statement, FIFA said that in line with the general principles set out in their statutes, they must remain neutral on political matters.
German star Mesut Özil became one of the few prominent global voices to call out China over its treatment of ethnic-minority Muslims in December 2019, while also accusing the Muslim world of ignoring the plight of the Uighur community. While he was still a player of Arsenal FC, the club sought to limit any damage caused to its business in China, where it has numerous commercial interests including a chain of restaurants, by releasing a statement stressing it is apolitical and doesn’t associate itself with Özil’s views.
“Regarding the comments made by Mesut Özil, Arsenal must make a clear statement”, it read. “The content published is Özil’s personal opinion. As a football club, Arsenal has always adhered to the principle of not involving itself in politics”.
High-profile Ukrainian football stars such as former Ballon d’or winner Andriy Shevchenko and Manchester city midfielder Oleksandr Zinchenko posted emotional pleas for the defence of their country. Atalanta’s Ukrainian player Ruslan Malinovskyi revealed a shirt which said,“No war in Ukraine”, after scoring against Olympiacos in the Europa League. The Ukrainian Premier league was postponed ahead of game week 19 and it remains unclear when sporting activity will be allowed to resume.
The Russian football team captain, Artem Dzyuba, has responded to fierce criticism over Russian footballers’ silence on the invasion of Ukraine. Dzyuba wrote: “war is scary”, but that he was not “afraid to be Russian…I’m proud to be Russian” and made a reference to players “sitting in mansions in England”. ”I am against double standards. Why is everyone always shouting about sports outside of politics, but when it comes to Russia, this principle is completely forgotten?“ added the Zenit St Petersburg forward. “War is scary. In stressful situations, people show their essence, sometimes negative”. “Peace and health to everybody!” Dzyuba concluded, alongside a picture of him in the Russian national shirt.
The way forward
“Fans don’t want politics brought into football”. English MP Lee Anderson added further that: “English footballers taking the knee before a match are supporting a political movement whose core principle aim is to undermine our way of life”. But, wait, who is it now introducing politics into football? Those taking the knee or those who insist that to do so is helping to “undermine our way of life“? Or both? It seems there’s greater loyalty to the culture wars than to the nation. Like much in the culture wars, the controversy over “taking the knee” invests a relatively rapid act with some kind of deep, existential significance. Beyond the inanities and hypocrisies of the debate are, however, more profound issues, not least the untangling of the relationship between sport and politics.
Most fans would probably agree that politics should be kept out of sport. We want sporting prowess to be “pure”, expressions of sublime skill or awe-inspiring endurance that are intrinsic to the sport and capture the genius of human athleticism. But sport, even in its most inspirational moments, doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Whether football or basketball, cricket or athletics, social and political contexts shape both the sport and our response to it. The relationship between sports and politics operates at many levels. Many sports were designed to enforce social needs, from Japanese Martials arts, celebrated as a means of spiritual development and social ordering, to cricket, an instrument through which Victorians sought to teach the ruling class to rule and the herd to obey.
The current row between Russia and Ukraine is just the latest expression of national hostilities spilling out into the sports field. And sports men and women have often used their platforms to make a political point. Most of us want the humanness of sporting achievement to transcend the immediacy of its political and social environment. Few want sporting tribalism to be consumed by political divisions. Nevertheless, most recognize that sport cannot be detached from its social grounding. Nor would we want it to be. For it is that grounding that imbues sport with much of its meaning.
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(Excerpts courtesy of The Sun – Newspaper)
Elume Raymond is Host on the YouTube Channel: The Warmup Show