Politics and sports

Politics and sports or sports diplomacy describes the use of sport as a means to influence diplomatic, social, and political relations. Sports diplomacy may transcend cultural differences and bring people together.

The use of sports and politics has had both positive and negative implications over history. Sports competitions or activities have had the intention to bring about change in certain cases. Nationalistic fervour is sometimes linked to victories or losses to some sport on sports fields.[1]

While the Olympics is often the biggest political example of using sports for diplomatic means, cricket and association football, as well as other sports in the global arena, have also been used in this regard. In the case of Apartheid, sport was used to isolate South Africa and bring about a major overhaul in the country's social structure. While ethnicity, race, social class and more can cause division, sports is also said to help blend differences.[2]

Additionally, numerous athletes have sought political office such as Georges Weah, some of them unsuccessfully, on either the national level or the sub-national current.

Some matches have also had national diplomatic incidents.

Association football

In regards to the politics of space and football in Europe, football has been historically able to simultaneously maintain the differences that give each European country their own sense of identity as well as strengthen the bonds that bind them together as one body.[3] Further, football stadiums in Europe have acted as both places of refuge as well as sites of terrorist attacks and political uprisings. According to Benoit, during the period of the Second World War, European Football underwent a massive transformation. With a coinciding sharp rise in popularity at a time of high political intensity, football became politicized. Therefore, Benoit argues that football began to embody three main characteristics during and after this period, becoming: 1) an agent of international relations in the sense that the foreign policies of European nations became supposedly articulated in football; 2) a source of political propaganda via using football to expose the state; 3) a tool to pacify constituents.[4] Consequently, all of these factors have contributed to the emergence of football and its stadiums as a means of political expression, a basis of recent collective memory, and its emergence as a highly politicized game.

While many clubs don't have a fixed political identity, some clubs are known to have clear leanings. According to YouGov statistics, supporters of the English club Sunderland AFC predominantly lean to the political left,[5] and often sing "The Red Flag" during games.[6]

While Sunderland fans are generally regarded as left wing,[5] the hooligan firm Seaburn Casuals was known for having far-right associations. When 26 Seaburn Casuals hooligans were arrested in a police raid before the 1998 FIFA World Cup, some of them were found to be involved with neo-Nazi groups like Combat 18.[7]

One of the biggest and oldest football rivalries is the Old Firm rivalry between the Scottish clubs Celtic and Rangers from Glasgow. The competition between the two clubs had roots in more than just a simple sporting rivalry.[8] It has as much to do with Northern Ireland as Scotland and this can be seen in the flags, cultural symbols, and emblems of both clubs.[9] It was infused with a series of complex disputes, sometimes centred on religion (Catholic and Protestant), Northern Ireland-related politics (Loyalist and Republican), national identity (British or Irish Scots), and social ideology (Conservatism and Socialism).[10] The majority of Rangers and Celtic supporters do not get involved in sectarianism, but serious incidents do occur with a tendency for the actions of a minority to dominate the headlines.[11][9] The Old Firm rivalry fuelled many assaults on Derby days, and some deaths in the past have been directly related to the aftermath of Old Firm matches.[12] An activist group that monitors sectarian activity in Glasgow has reported that on Old Firm weekends, violent attacks increase ninefold over normal levels.[13] An increase in domestic abuse can also be attributed to Old Firm fixtures.[14]


Norway declined to take part in the 1957 Bandy World Championship because the Soviet Union was invited, due to the Soviet invasion of Hungary the year before. The country made a similar protest for the 1969 Bandy World Championship because of the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia that year, handing over the hosting of the 1969 event to Sweden.

Ukraine declined to take part in the 2015 Bandy World Championship hosted by Russia because of the Russian annexation of Crimea the year before, since Ukraine still considers Crimea as part of its territory.


Heavyweight champion Max Schmeling had been lauded by the Nazi Party as a heroic symbol of German destiny and Aryan supremacy.[citation needed] A politically charged boxing match with Joe Louis was preceded nationalistic symbolism and imagery.[citation needed] Schmeling defeated Louis, for the latter's first professional defeat in 1936. Langston Hughes recalled the national reaction to Louis' defeat.

I walked down Seventh Avenue and saw grown men weeping like children, and women sitting in the curbs with their head in their hands. All across the country that night when the news came out that Joe was knocked out, people cried. – Langston Hughes[15]

Schmeling was, however, welcomed home with a jubilant reaction. Hitler sent his wife flowers with the message: "For the wonderful victory of your husband, our greatest German boxer, I must congratulate you with all my heart." Schmeling responded to the accolades saying: "At this moment I have to tell Germany, I have to report to the Führer in particular, that the thoughts of all my countrymen were with me in this fight; that the Führer and his faithful people were thinking of me. This thought gave me the strength to succeed in this fight. It gave me the courage and the endurance to win this victory for Germany's colours."[16]

A rematch was scheduled later in New York City. In the build-up to the event U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt offered his support: "Joe, we need muscles like yours to beat Germany." Schmeling's hotel was picketed by American protestors after an accompanying Nazi Party publicist declared that a black man could not defeat Schmeling and that when he won, his prize money would be used to build German tanks.[17] Louis won the rematch in a first round knock out and he became the focal point of anti-Nazi sentiment leading up to World War II. Louis later recalled the pressure on him before the fight: "I knew I had to get Schmeling good. I had my own personal reasons and the whole damned country was depending me."[16]

Decades later, Muhammad Ali took up political causes in his refusal to be drafted for the Vietnam War amid the Civil Rights Movement during the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson.

After earning the championship, Clay converted his religion to Islam, which instigated conflict with his boxing career. He also abandoned his name that was given to his slave ancestors and adopted Muhammad Ali. On April 28, 1967, he refused to serve in the Army during the Vietnam War, stating religious reasons that it goes against the Qur'an's teaching.

I ain't got no quarrel with those Vietcong...no Vietcong ever called me nigger. – Muhammad Ali

He then became an icon of not only the civil rights struggle, but also the anti-Vietnam War movement. However he was convicted of draft evasion, sentenced to five years in prison, fined $10,000 and stripped of his championship. It was not until a lawsuit in 1970 that Ali redeemed his title. He would continue in historical boxing matches now known as Rumble in the Jungle in 1974 and Thrilla in Manila in 1975, defeating George Foreman and Joe Frazier, respectively.[18]

Chérif Hamia a boxer born in Algeria but that played under the colonial France's behalf reached at the top level and reached in finals of European Cup. He is said to have been ordered under threat by FLN independentist members during Algerian-French independence war (he was considered as the favourite), to "either win while covering himself under an Algerian flag or to lose to the other player Nigerian Hogan Bassey Kid.


Chess, which is a recognized sport of the International Olympic Committee, has a history of being linked to political issues. World Chammpion Alexander Alekhine[19] collaborated with National-Socialist Germany during the Second World War. Cold War politics featured in the 1972 World Championship match between the American Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union, when Fischer defeated Spassky and temporarily halted Soviet chess dominance;[20] and again in the 1978 World Championship match, when the Soviet Anatoly Karpov narrowly defeated Viktor Korchnoi, who had recently defected from the Soviet Union. Several countries boycotted the 1976 Chess Olympiad, because it was held in Israel.


In 1969, the Marylebone Cricket Club refused to allow Basil D'Oliveira to play for England against South Africa for fear of upsetting the apartheid regime. D'Oliveira was a coloured born in South Africa and refused permission to play for the South African team by the government, instead he played for England. Following his performance against Australia in the previous year's Ashes, D'Oliveria was one of the most likely players to be selected. However, he was not selected; it was suspected at the time[by whom?] that this was capitulation towards the apartheid regime.[citation needed]

Cricket has also had a hand to play in sporting diplomacy. Following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and Soviet pressure on India to deflect the tension they faced, in 1987 Pakistan's president at the time, General Zia ul-Haq, attended a test match between India and Pakistan in Jaipur – a visit that apparently helped cool a flare-up in tensions. Furthermore, following a fifteen-year lull in test matches, cricket tours between India and Pakistan were revived in 2004 in the wake of diplomatic initiatives to bury half a century of mutual hostility. Both sides relaxed their tough visa regulations for each other, allowing thousands of fans to travel across the border.[21]

In an attempt to replicate the cricket diplomacy of the past General Pervez Musharraf came to India in 2005 ostensibly for a cricket match. The trip, however, quickly took on the air of a summit as the sides were urged "to seize a historic chance to end their dispute over Kashmir."[22][23] Often this rivalry has been tinged with a religious-political bent to it. A Pakistani fan in Karachi ran onto the pitch to attack the Indian captain, and fans threw stones at the Indian players during the match in Karachi. In 2000 right-wing Hindus dug up the cricket pitch in New Delhi to protest against the Pakistani team's visit.[24] Following the Kargil conflict, and at various other times, there have also been calls to suspend cricketing ties between the two countries.[1]

In reference to immigrants from the Caribbean and South Asia, British Conservative party member Norman Tebbit once a "cricket test" could adjudge a persons loyalty to England by determining whether or not they supported the England and Wales cricket team ahead of those from their own countries of origin.

In 2008, the England and Wales Cricket Board cancelled Zimbabwe's 2009 tour of England and suspended all bilateral relations between the two states in response to the situation regarding the 2008 Zimbabwean presidential election.[25] MPs Jack Straw and Tessa Jowell wrote to the International Cricket Council asking then to ban Zimbabwe from international cricket.[26]

China have also gotten in on the cricket diplomacy act. Cross-Strait relations have once again been the impetus for doing so. During the buildup to the 2007 World Cup, Antigua received a $55 million grant to build the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, while Jamaica received $30 million for a new Trelawny stadium. St. Lucia have also got both a cricket and a football stadium courtesy of China. China spent a remarkable $132 million on cricket facilities in the West Indies over the past few years, a massive amount compared to the International Cricket Council's paltry 10-year budget of $70 million to promote cricket globally. It is said that the motive for China's generosity is because "Most of the remaining countries that recognize Taiwan are located in the Caribbean and Latin America." The diplomacy paid off in the end as Grenada and Dominica derecognized Taiwan as an independent country. Further, "Of the remaining 24 countries that recognize Taiwan, four are in the Caribbean and two of these play cricket." Grenada previously had a stadium built by Taiwan, but saw it flattened by a hurricane. To join the action, China quickly came in to erect another stadium. Consequently, Taiwan took Grenada to a New York City court to force the latter to return the original loan.

Put on the back foot, a beleaguered Taiwan also used the World Cup to shore up its position among its shrinking West Indian support base. It doled out $21 million to St. Kitts and Nevis and $12 million to the even smaller St. Vincent and the Grenadines for cricket grounds. China's aggressive ambitions have benefited the Caribbean Islands as "Strategic analysts say China is laying out more money than is needed to just isolate Taiwan. China, which has built large embassies in each of the islands, now has a bigger diplomatic presence in the Caribbean than the United States, the superpower next door." And that "Mainland China's long-term strategy coincides with its foreign policy."[27]

Following the death of Saeed Anwar's daughter he took to a more fundamental Islam and started growing a beard. He was then said to have been the turning point in the Islamisation of the Pakistani cricket team,[28] which was also a reason for Yousuf Youhana's conversion to Islam.[29] From the 2003 World Cup a more visible trend of religion was seen in the Pakistan team with many players having become more devout to the point of either leading prayers or growing beards as a symbol of being a "good Muslim" (with the notable exception of Shoaib Akhtar and Danish Kaneria (the latter being the only Hindu on the team)).[30] Even post-match interviews were preceded by Islamic salutations such as Bismillah ur Rehman rahim.[28] Most famously, after the loss to arch-rival India at the 2007 ICC World Twenty20 Shoaib Malik came under fire for apologising "I want to thank everyone back home in Pakistan and Muslims all over the world. Thank you very much and I’m sorry that we didn’t win, but we did give our 100 per cent" for the defeat, which was particularly ironic considering Irfan Pathan, a Muslim was named Man of the Match for his performance in India's win,[31] and Shah Rukh Khan was in the stands cheering on India.[32] Following the 2007 World Cup and the loss to Ireland (an unranked cricket team), the religious influence was criticised for taking a toll on the team. The Islamisation of such a Western sport in Pakistan was seen as symbolic of the growing influence of religion in every field.[33] In Pakistan, this trend was attributed to dating back to the tenure of the military government of General Zia-ul Haq where the focus of the youth was shifted from Pakistan as a nation-state and cultural-religious pluralism to Islam as a transnational identity, greater attention to conservative Islamic ritualism, and a perception of a global conspiracy against Muslims and admiration for militancy. A need was also seen to reorient sportsmen towards professionalism, discipline and rules and regulations. It was said that the focus of education and socialisation needed to return to a Pakistan that could not afford to be at war.[34]

In 2011, India and Pakistan played each other in the 2011 Cricket World Cup for the first time since 26/11 attacks in Mumbai and a general souring of relations. The event was spontaneously attended by Prime Ministers Yousaf Raza Gillani of Pakistan and Manmohan Singh of India. Following the game, permission was granted for the two countries to play regular series against each other.[citation needed]

Formula 1


Amid the Bahraini uprising, Avaaz.org called for sports boycotts, comparing the situation in Bahrain with that of apartheid South Africa.[35] Other human rights protesters also called for a boycott of the Bahrain Grand Prix with more explicit comparisons to the sporting boycott of South Africa.[36][37] On 17 February, it was announced that the second round of GP2 Asia Series, which was to be held at Bahrain International Circuit on 17–19 February, had been cancelled due to security and safety concerns surrounding the protests.[38] On 21 February, the 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix, then to take place on 13 March, was again cancelled because of the same concerns.[39] Similarly, the 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix, which was held amid claims from Bernie Ecclestone that there was no trouble, faced weekly protests and violence leading up to the event.[citation needed]


Going as far back as the 1936 Olympics, Adolf Hitler used this as a stage to promote Aryan nationalism for Germany with his ideological belief of racial supremacy.[40] The Olympics were used as a method of hardening the German spirit and instilling unity among German youth. It was also believed that sport was a "way to weed out the weak, Jewish, and other undesirables."[41] As a result, many Jews and Gypsies were banned from participating in sporting events. While Germany did top the medal table, the Nazi depiction of ethnic Africans as inferior was dispelled by Jesse Owens' gold medals in the 100m, 200m, 4 × 100 m relay and long jump events.[42] There were questions as to whether Hitler acknowledged Owens' victories. On the first day of competition, Hitler left the stadium after only shaking hands with the German victors. An Olympic committee member then insisted that Hitler either greet every medalist or none at all; he chose the latter.[43] At the games he was visited by Adi Dassler, the founder of Adidas, who offered new shoes to Owens.[44]

Jesse Owens on the podium after winning the long jump at the 1936 Summer Olympics. L-R, on podium, Naoto Tajima, Owens, Luz Long.

Hitler had a certain time to come to the stadium and a certain time to leave. It happened he had to leave before the victory ceremony after the 100 meters. But before he left I was on my way to a broadcast and passed near his box. He waved at me and I waved back. I think it was bad taste to criticise the 'man of the hour' – Jesse Owens[45]

Once again, in 1968, the global stage of the Olympics was used to show the world the plight of the African-American struggle during the civil rights movement in their home country. The famous Black Power salute was performed by Tommie Smith and John Carlos during the medal ceremony in Mexico City. Věra Čáslavská, in protest to the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia and the controversial decision by the judges on the Balance Beam and Floor, turned her head down and away from the Soviet flag whilst the anthem played during the medal ceremony. She returned home as a heroine of the Czechoslovak people, but was made an outcast by the Soviet dominated government.

In 1972, several athletes of the Israeli Olympic team were killed in an attack by Palestinian gunmen of the Black September terrorist organization that started at the Olympic village and eventually resulted in the deaths of 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team who were targeted in the Munich massacre in West Germany.

The 1980 winter Olympics were used in a much less overtly political way, but in a much more culturally politically significant way. The United States men's Ice Hockey team defeated the USSR National team in the semi final round. This win by the United States team was much more than just an Olympic game, the Soviets had been superior on the ice against everyone and had recently beaten the NHL All Star team.[46] The US Olympic team was all amateurs with an average age of 21,[47] while the Soviets were quasi-professional. The shocking victory in Lake Placid, during one of the heights of the Cold War brought about renewed nationalism and belief among the citizens of the United States and shock and shame to the Soviets.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan led to a boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics by a numerous Western states and their allies in protest of Russian actions. In the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics the Soviet Bloc led a retaliatory boycott of the games in response to the American-led Moscow games boycott.

Following the cancellation of wrestling at the Olympics in the 2010s, traditional political rivals Iran, Russia and the United States joined forces to annul the measure. The U.S. hosted a publicity event in New York City with athletes from all three countries to campaign for its reinstatement.[48]

Table tennis

In the 1970s an exchange of table tennis players from the United States and the People's Republic of China led to a thaw in Sino-American relations that eventually led to U.S. President Richard Nixon's rapprochement with China. It all began when the Chinese table tennis team invited their U.S. counterparts to their country on an all-expense-paid trip during the 1971 World Table Tennis Championships in Japan. Time magazine termed it: "The ping heard ‘round the world.'" On April 10, 1971, the team, and accompanying journalists, became the first U.S. sports delegation to enter and break the information blockade since 1949. Although the U.S. team was defeated by their hosts, in return to Premier Chou En-lai's invitation to more U.S. journalists, the United States government announced that it would lift its 20-year embargo on trade with China. A reporter for Time noted that table tennis was "an apt metaphor for the relations between Washington and Peking" and that both state motioned a willingness to adapt to the new initiative. However, it was not until July 15, that Nixon would finally be the first U.S. president to pay a visit to China. Thirty-six years later, a three-day "Ping-Ping Diplomacy" event was held at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum during the week of June 9, 2008. The original members of the U.S. and Chinese teams from 1971 were present to participate at the event.[49]


In 2008, Israeli professional tennis players Shahar Pe'er, Tzipi Obziler, Andy Ram, and Yoni Erlich were supposed to feature in ATP and WTA tournaments in the Arab cities of Doha and Dubai, respectively, despite bans on Israeli passport holders from entering both countries.[50] Pe'er was refused a visa to Dubai the following year following the Gaza War with the organisers saying "We do not wish to politicise sport but we have to be sensitive to recent events in the whole region and not alienate or put at risk the players or the many tennis fans of different nationalities that we have in the United Arab Emirates." The WTA chief executive Larry Scott later reacted saying some "sanctions" would be issued on Dubai. She also faced protests following the war during a tournament in New Zealand.[51]

During the 2010 US Open tennis tournament India's Rohan Bopanna and Pakistan's Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi reached the men's doubles finals, eliciting responses from political leaders in both countries. Supporters from both countries, including the respective United Nations ambassadors, sat in the stands together. Rashid Malik, Pakistan's Davis Cup coach, said "The success of their team so far has been a big encouragement for both countries, it will only have a peaceful and positive impact on their people." Manohar Singh Gill, India's sports minister, asked "I have one question for everyone. If Bopanna and Qureshi can play together, why cannot India and Pakistan?"

The two were also involved in another campaign promoted by the Monaco-based Peace and Sport when they wore sweat shirts with slogans reading "Stop War, Start Tennis." They refer to themselves as the "Indo-Pak Express." Such a high-profile collaboration meant this was read as a "unique" partnership. Qureshi said "It just feels like us doing well on the bigger level is getting the message across throughout the world – if me and Rohan can get along so well there's no reason the Indians and Pakistanis can't get along with each other. If even two or three per cent of people say, 'If they can get along why can't we?' that's what we're trying to do. "They're all mixed together sitting in the crowd. You can't tell who is Pakistani and who is Indian. That's the beauty about sports. Before our pairing you would never see that in any sports, fighting for one cause. It's really good to be part of it."[52]

After their finals defeat, Qureshi spoke to the crowd to "say something on behalf of all Pakistanis, [that] every time I come here, there's a wrong perception about the people of Pakistan. They are very friendly, very loving people. We want peace in this world as much as you guys." He then made a political appeal to the controversial "Ground Zero mosque" saying "For me, as a Muslim, that's what makes America the greatest country in the world – freedom of religion, freedom of speech. If the mosque is built, I think it's a huge gesture to all the Muslim community out there in the world. I would really appreciate it." Indian and Pakistani fans filled the stadium for the final as the two U.N. ambassadors again sat together in the President's Box. Pakistan's ambassador Abdullah Hussain Haroon said "They've proven that when Indians and Pakistanis get together we can raise fire. I think on a people-to-people basis, they're setting an example that the politicians should follow."[53]


South Africa

Most famously, the sporting boycott of South Africa during Apartheid was said to have played a crucial role in forcing South Africa to open up their society and to end a global isolation. South Africa was excluded from the 1964 Summer Olympics, and many sports' governing bodies expelled or suspended membership of South African affiliates. It was said that the "international boycott of apartheid sport has been a powerful means for sensitising world opinion against apartheid and in mobilising millions of people for action against that despicable system." This boycott "in some cases helped change official policies." [citation needed]

The South African Table Tennis Board (SATTB), a body founded in contravention to the white South African table tennis board, was replaced for the latter by the International Table Tennis Federation. While the SATTB team was able to participate in the world championships held in Stockholm in 1957, team members were immediately refused passports by the government. It ruled that no black could compete internationally except through the white sports body.

Started in 1980, the United Nations "Register of Sports Contacts with South Africa" – a record of sports exchanges with South Africa and a list of sportsmen who have participated in sports events in South Africa – prove to be an effective instrument to discourage collaboration with apartheid sport.[54][55] In the 1980s South Africa was also expelled from most international sports bodies. The International Olympic Committee even adopted a declaration against "apartheid in sport" on June 21, 1988, for the total isolation of apartheid sport.[56][57]

The country's hosting and winning of the 1995 Rugby World Cup was a powerful boost to post-apartheid South Africa's return to the international sporting scene.[24] The 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa also drew similar parallels and questions as to whether race could be overcome,[58] this was especially true following the death of Eugene Terreblanche.[59]

United States

US President Calvin Coolidge (left) and Washington Senators pitcher Walter Johnson (right) shake hands.

Fans of NASCAR are generally considered by the media of the United States to fall within the Republican base as an "almost exclusively white, conservative racing crowd", the "white, middle-aged, working-class Southern men" who were coveted in the first decades of the 21st century during electoral campaigns. Joe Gibbs, a NASCAR team owner, spoke at the 2008 Republican National Convention.[60] Almost 90 percent of political contributions from those affiliated with NASCAR go to Republican candidates. Texas Governor, Rick Perry sponsored 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup Series Champion Bobby Labonte's car for an election campaign in 2010.[61] Labonte was reported to have been paid $225,000 to carry the "rickperry.org" logo.[62] Two years later, Rick Santorum sponsored Tony Raines' car.[63] In 2000, then Republican primary candidate Rudy Giuliani made an appearance at the Daytona International Speedway.[64]

A study of elections has shown that the result of sports events can affect the overall results. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that when the home team wins the game before the election, the incumbent candidates can increase their share of the vote by 1.5 percent, while a loss had the opposite effect. The study looked at NCAA football games from 1946 to 2008. In addition, the study found that colleges with higher attendance rates had a larger effect on the results, up to 3%. The effects are increased even further if the game is an upset, that is, if the team expected to win does not. Other studies have confirmed these results for other sports, such as baseball and basketball. The study authors concluded that the win made voters feel better about society, boosting votes for the incumbent, while losses made voters feel worse, sending votes to the challenger. There was some speculation that the result of certain games could even decide the 2012 United States presidential election.[65]

In the 2010 United States elections, at least five former athletes ran on Republican tickets for political office. Chris Dudley took part in his first political race for Governor of Oregon after playing for the Portland Trail Blazers. He also helped persuade former Philadelphia Eagles' Jon Runyan to run for New Jersey's 3rd congressional district against a first-term Democrat John Adler. Shawn Bradley of the Philadelphia 76ers and Dallas Mavericks ran for a seat in Utah's legislature; Keith Fimian, who played for the Cleveland Browns, sought a House seat from Virginia; and former Washington Redskins' Clint Didier sought a Republican nomination for Senate in Washington state.[66] Only Runyan won his election.

Baseball players union boss Don Fehr contributed to the presidential primaries for George W. Bush, Al Gore, Bill Bradley and John McCain. Cincinnati Reds owner Carl Lindner contributed $1.4 million to the Republican party and $1 million to the US Democratic party.[67] Former MLB pitcher Jim Bunning was also a senator once. NFL quarterback Heath Shuler has served as a member of the House of Representatives, as well as Seattle Seahawks receiver Steve Largent and Oklahoma Sooners quarterback J.C. Watts. Former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jack Kemp was a nine term congressman who chaired the House Republican Leadership Conference and served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President George H. W. Bush. Kemp was the 1996 Republican candidate for Vice President. Bill Bradley, who played basketball for the New York Knicks, served three terms in the U.S. Senate representing New Jersey.

Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis planned to run for office from New Jersey, though his attempt was blocked and he awaited an appeal hearing.[68]

In 2002, the US State Department initiated a sports exchange programme entitled SportsUnited to encourage dialogue between children from the ages of 7–17. The programme seeks to bring together international students with their counterparts in the U.S. to establish links with American professional athletes and to expose them to American culture. Another programme encourages U.S. athletes to travel to and learn about foreign cultures and the challenges young people face in other countries. SportsUnited has partaken in 15 different sports in nearly 70 countries.[69]

North Korea

World Cup

North Korea's relationships with the international community, especially South Korea, have sometimes been shaped by sports diplomacy. In the 1966 World Cup, North Korea defeated the heavily favored Italian team.[70] Kim Jong-il believed that successful athletics increases the strength of a country, promoted its ideology, brought a country great honor and increased its international reputation.[71] For this reason, this victory has become propaganda used by the North Korean regime to present a reputable country to not only their citizens, but also to the international community as a whole. Although North Korea has not had much success since this victory, North Korea participated in the 2010 World Cup. In addition, North Korea was surrounded by controversy during 2006 World Cup qualifying. Fan violence in Pyongyang after a match with Iran led to North Korea playing a home game in Thailand without any fans.[72]

1988 Seoul Olympics

The years leading up to, during, and after the 1988 Seoul Olympics played a major role in the development of North Korea. In 1981, Seoul was selected as the host of the 1988 Olympics. Although at first, North Korea did not consider that Seoul being selected as Olympic host was a major issue, it quickly realized that South Korea hosting the Olympics would highlight the growing economic imbalances between North and South Korea.[73] This realization led to a large devotion of time and effort in an attempt to convince the International Olympic Committee to split the Olympic Games between Seoul and Pyongyang. During these discussions, the IOC considered some concessions, only to be rejected by the North Korean regime. This can be seen as a great missed opportunity for North Korea to gain from the Olympic Games.[74]

During this time, North Korea's major allies were China, the USSR, and Cuba. While Fidel Castro and Cuba staunchly defended North Korea, both the USSR and China agreed to participate in the games. This major decision strained relationships that were vital to the North Korean economic system.[74] Throughout the history of North Korea, North Korea relied heavily on the foreign aid. The countries that gave the most aid were the USSR and China. For that reason, the strained relationships had a major effect on North Korea. This played a major role in the North Korean isolationist policies of the 1990s. In addition, as a result of the undeniable success of the Seoul Games, the growing gap between these two nations was further put on display.

As a result of the failed negotiations North Korea engaged in several acts of terrorism. In 1987, in an attempt to destabilize the Olympic Games and instill fear in the international community, a South Korean commercial flight, Korean Air Flight 858 was bombed killing 115 passengers on board.[73] This event did not fulfill its intended purpose and instead further weakened North Korea's international reputation.

13th World Festival of Youth and Students

North Korea, following its unsuccessful effort to sabotage the Seoul Olympics decided to hold the 13th World Festival of Youth and Students in 1989. Coming one year after the most successful Olympics in years, there was large pressure on the North Korean regime to hold a similarly successful event. Although this event brought in 177 countries, the greatest number in its history, it was never seen as a true alternative to the Olympics and did not gain the international visibility that the North Korean government had hoped for.[73] In addition, the cost of the event was a staggering 4 billion dollars and helped further push North Korea into the financial distress that was so prevalent during the 1990s.

Pyongyang International Sports and Culture Festival for Peace

Japanese wrestler-turned-politician Antonio Inoki worked with the North Korean government to organize the Pyongyang International Sports and Culture Festival for Peace in April 1995 in order to promote peace between North Korea, the United States and Japan. The Festival culminated in two nights of professional wrestling, which featured bouts between Japanese and American wrestlers that were watched by guest of honor Muhammad Ali.[75] Several of the bouts were broadcast on pay-per-view in the US under the title 'Collision in Korea'.

Arirang Festival

The Arirang Festival, starting in the early 2000s takes place in the Rungrado 1st of May Stadium, the largest stadium in the world holding approximately 150,000 people. Participation in this event is mandatory and the performances are extravagant and impressively choreographed.[76] The Arirang Festival can be broken up into three different parts. The first is a floor show, where thousands of athletes, gymnasts and dancers demonstrate their athletic abilities. The second section uses thousands of North Koreans to create a human mosaic depicting vibrant images of North Korea and North Korean achievements. Finally, the third section is the music that links the performance.[76] Together, these elements present to the international community North Korea's best athletes through a mix of athletics and art. The Arirang Festival draws international tourists and journalists and intends to present a thriving economic nation to the world. Many of the acts in the festival focus on the theme of reunification. Children chant "how much longer do we have to be divided due to foreign forces". The 2014 and 2015 Arirang Festivals were canceled and it is unknown if it will return.

Recent relations with South Korea

North Korea and South Korea marched together for the 2000 Sydney Olympics, 2004 Athens Olympics and 2006 Turin Olympics. Plans to walk together for the 2008 Beijing Olympics fell through when principles regarding selection of athletes could not be agreed upon. After the 2008 Beijing Olympics tensions have increased between these two nations.[76]

Many inter-Korean sporting events were held in the 2000s. These events were referred to as unification matches.[76]

Internal use of sports politics

The North Korean leaders understood the importance of sports not only in the international community, but also internally. The major ideology in North Korea, Juche, has been solidified through the Communist Party's use of sports.[71] The North Korea regime believed that by supporting the increases in sport, the North Korean people would overall be more fit. This would allow the people to be more useful in the revolutionary struggle. For this reason, it was important to start athletics young. In fact, training in physical sport was mandatory during schooling. In the 2000s, major sporting events were being broadcast throughout North Korea, and these events are still being used as propaganda tools. Sports have played a vital role in maintaining the power of the ruling class, while at the same time offering opportunities to interact with the international community.


More recently Manny Pacquiao was elected to the House of Representatives of the Philippines in 2010[77] and Vitali Klitschko was elected to the Ukrainian Parliament as leader of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform in 2012.[78]

President Serzh Sargsyan is also Chairman of the Armenian Chess Federation.[79] Olympic Champion Yurik Vardanyan is an advisor to Sargsyan.[80]

Red Kelly became a Canadian MP while playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu ran three successful campaigns (including a by-election resulting from his own resignation) to become a member of parliament in the Lok Sabha as a Bharatiya Janata Party candidate. In the 2009 general election, former captain Mohammed Azharuddin also won a seat in parliament from outside his home territory. Kirti Azad also won a seat in parliament from Darbhanga, Bihar from the BJP. Sachin Tendulkar was sworn in as an MP in the Rajya Sabha on 4 June 2012, while he was active in the sports field.[81] Olympic silver-medalist Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore joined the BJP. It was said that "celebrities...are a time-tested tool for the political parties to tide over their bankruptcy."[82] Additionally, former cricketer Mohammed Kaif ran as an unsuccessful candidate for the National Congress in the 2014 elections. Former football player Avertano Furtado was also elected as a MLA in Goa. Former hockey player Pargat Singh was also elected as a MLA for the Shiromani Akali Dal.

In 2013, Wesley Korir, winner of the 2012 Boston Marathon, was elected to the Kenyan National Assembly.[83]

Former chess player Garry Kasparov also became an opposition activist in his native Russia.

Former offshore powerboat racer Daniel Scioli became vice-president of Argentina between 2003 and 2007 and is currently the Governor of the Province of Buenos Aires, considered one of the most influential political jobs in Argentina. Carlos Espínola, a windsurfer and Olympic medalist, also entered politics and is, as of 2013, mayor of his native city[which?] in Corrientes Province. Former Pakistani cricketer and the captain of the Pakistan cricket team which won the world cup, Imran Khan later created his own political party PTI which is currently the main form of opposition in the Pakistan government.

Colonial won victories

Some victories are considered retroactively to be belonging rather to ex-colonies rather than countries under which players fought under. Retroactive decisions are commonplace in sports, no matter it is for cheating, doping or other sanctioned behaviours.[84]

In popular culture


See also


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