Sports and politics – a problematic relationship

The Association of Media Professionals in Sports Journalism,, has dedicated the focus of the annual conference to the title “Sport and Politics – a Problematic Relationship”. The event was postponed due to the coronavirus and is becoming more topical than ever due to Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine. Discussions after the main event lasted for approximately two hours with the presentation, panel discussion and question and answer session.

Did the major associations fall into the credibility trap of awarding title competitions to Qatar, Russia or China? Is this how FIFA, the World Ice Hockey Federation or the International Olympic Committee are destroying the magic of the sport? Should athletes or national federations speak out about grievances or focus on doing their job properly? Are exclusions from Russia the right way to go when the sport continues? Can the club muzzle the voice of active players? Shouldn’t it be: “Sports and money – a problematic relationship”? What is the value of a title if the best is left out?

Questions about questions that usually result in a mixture of answers, helplessness, and demands. It was no different at However, one person emerged that afternoon with expert knowledge, understandable demands, and reasonable answers. German sports lover, philosopher, emeritus professor and publicist Günther Gebauer, 78, gave insights in his presentation on how ideas are organized in this tangle, and what guidelines can be followed.

two theses

First, Gebauer put forward two theses that are in fact contradictory, but logical. First: “Sports is political.” He doesn’t think much of the non-political sports legend. “There are simply too many problems that can no longer be hidden (granting major events, corruption, state-coordinated doping, activists’ rebellion against racism, etc.)”

Second: “It makes sense to take politics out of sport as much as possible.” Sports would be overshadowed by constant pretense, as sport is like art one of the few areas where its rules and laws apply. Sports is an independent field. This area must be preserved. This means: acknowledging the rules set by the sport, accepting correct application by the referee, serving aimlessly (“it’s all about winning”) or respecting the values ​​of the sport’s ethics such as recognition of an opponent or fair play.

Protest, expression, or even exceptions are appropriate – and can serve as evidence for all – that this framework of sport is violated: if equal opportunity is violated, one does not by one’s own strength, but by doping or illegal substances striving for victory , someone should play sports under duress, events or teams or perhaps individual athletes are used to represent a nation waging an aggressive war, the nation is awarded a major event that does not recognize human rights. After that, according to Jabbour, protests should be made against it.

some examples

If you use these keywords as a guide, you will find a clear answer to many questions. Some examples whose answers do not come from Gebauer, but likely match his opinion:

Kneeling while playing the national anthem in protest of racism in the United States with the Black Lives Matter movement? Yeah. Defending basic human rights is indeed the task of every citizen.

Can the club put a muzzle on the athletes, meaning: “You are there to play sports?” No, because banning political expression is also a political act. There is also something racist in restricting expression of opinion. True to the motto: “You are there for entertainment and nothing else.”

Is it correct to award the World Cup to Russia or Qatar, the Olympic Games to Beijing, etc.? An error occurred in the award. In general, associations do not adequately apply their own rules. They join and look away until the cash registers ring.

Was it right to ban Russia from organizing the 2023 Ice Hockey World Championships? Yes, the right decision. At present, the participation of Russia in a peaceful tournament would be unreasonable.

Should the 14-year-old Russian gymnast be excluded? Yes, she has not yet decided her fate. Her victory, at best, will be politically abused at home.

Should a Russian tennis player be banned from Wimbledon? No, he does not represent Putin’s Russia.

Was Russia’s partial disqualification after doping fraud at Sochi 2014 true? at all. A country that systematically deceives its guests with the help of state officials in order to improve the balance of its medals, this is the bottom tray.

Does the sport not lose its value if the best (the World Hockey Championship without Russia) is absent? Yes, but this is clearly a lesser evil than giving a Russian team the chance to become world champion and allowing Putin to celebrate that title.

Aren’t sports, politics, money and power so closely related that it is almost impossible to separate them? This is correct.

Gabauer answers the last question with a third thesis: “Sports have not yet determined the places in its field where politics should go and where it should go.” The International Olympic Committee, as the umbrella organization for top-tier sport, has not yet done this work. In Gebauer’s view, it is better for the sport to develop such strategies. This would allow him to regain autonomy.

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