When sport gets political

November 01, 2017

SPORT at its best is an escape from reality; games so gripping you forget about the things going on in your life, becoming completely absorbed in the contest.

Life can be tough, and for many the chance to sit down and watch or head to a sporting event is the perfect way to forget about the hardships and be entertained.

It’s understandable why when big picture political and social issues enter into the sporting field, many are quick to dismiss how appropriate they are when what we are watching is at its core a game.

‘Stick to sports’ has become somewhat of a catchcry for those who think sporting commentators, organisations and even players shouldn’t be venturing into these areas.

In some ways though, sport is the perfect way in to social issues for an audience usually not interested in discussing them.

There are plenty of societal issues in recent years that have found a connection to the sporting landscape.

In recent days a Richmond footballer has been outed for sharing an explicit photograph of a woman he had celebrated his club’s grand final win with.

It got people talking about how inappropriate and damaging it is to share such images without consent, and there is a massive lesson to be learnt by this player’s mistake; a message the younger generation more and more often in touch with digital technology vitally needs to learn.

But if you read comment sections online or listen to talkback radio, one damaging ‘counter-argument’ rears it ugly head with regularity — ‘it’s her fault for agreeing to take the photo’.

Victim blaming is easy to do, but completely misses the point of how irresponsible distributing the photo is. But the fact many still use it as an excuse certainly highlights it is still an issue that needs to be talked about and learnt from.

If sport intersecting with that means some do learn, it’s a perfect way in for many to start thinking about their own views on the matter.

But there’s more broad topics working their way into the sporting sphere; particularly issues of race and sexuality.

Many, perhaps a majority, were outraged when the AFL endorsed the Yes campaign for the marriage equality plebiscite, saying a sporting body should not be expressing a position.

But the AFL effectively used its position as an influential body in society; not simply to try and swing voters from no to yes, but to try and help people who wouldn’t usually care or engage with the issue to do so.

Further from home, the NFL has seen mass protests against police brutality and racial inequality that have captured the public’s attention in a way making it one of the biggest American issues of recent time.

I can only use my personal experience, but the protests made me want to learn more about where the players protesting are coming from and what experiences they have gone through.

An important issue regardless of who is protesting, being athletes protesting gave me a desire to learn more and think about the wider issues, and I don’t think I’m alone in that regard.

Sport at its core is a circus, a playpen equivalent for an older generation.

If it can be the vehicle for many to think about what in the grand scheme of things are far more important topics, that has to be a good thing.

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