Politics and Sport: Blurred Goal-Lines

Oliver Fisk, Staff Writer

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Similar to much of the world right now, the current state of politics within the United States is one of unbridled discord. Washington, so enfettered by partisan obdurance, could hardly keep its doors open to start the year. Political, racial, religious, and sociopolitical tensions pervade uneasily throughout this country as they do throughout others around the globe. We’re not unique.

The United States does however, have a few places in which everyday citizens can escape from all the political hostility and malevolence. American citizens can escape from the world’s incessant rhetoric and the bitter animadversions tossed back and forth between Democrats and Republicans if they wish, by entering into the world of sport. Sit down, watch the ball game, and forget about life for a while. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Trumpian or a Cortezian, capitalist or socialist, you can agree that the Saints were absolutely [REDACTED] by bad refereeing last week. Anybody can hate Tom Brady, it doesn’t matter what your politics are.

The American world of sport is like an evernew sports car. It’s utterly brilliant, it shines without the trace of any unsightly political scratches. At least that’s the business establishment’s vision. Ask Colin Kaepernick, social crusader, how his plan of becoming an everyday sports fan’s favorite political activist went. Sure, in 2017 he was named ‘Citizen of the Year’ by GQ, and sure he was given the ‘Muhammad Ali Legacy Award’ by Sports Illustrated… but the quarterback who formerly graced the green turf at the Super Bowl hasn’t played a snap in almost three years. Kaepernick remains ostracized and his collusion lawsuit against the owners of NFL teams and the league has heretofore failed to yield any amenable result in his favor.

Other countries aren’t so lucky. Putting aside the post-WW2 soccer teams across Europe that were literally owned by fascist, communist, and otherwise authoritarian dictators, and putting aside the offputting pictures of Putin leering over every World Cup match in Russia over the summer, in some countries the spheres of politics and sport are all-encompassingly intertwined. Take the case of Qatar. A year and a half ago, a quartet of  neighboring countries-Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE- imposed a blockade upon the tiny nation of Qatar. Though the isolated country has “enhanced domestic food production and reduced its reliance on a small group of countries”, per the IMF, the blockade still tore multinational families apart, raised consumer prices, and obstructed civilian travel.

On the 29th of January, Qatar faced the UAE in the semi-finals of the AFC Asian Cup, a soccer tournament pitting the best national teams of Asia and the Middle East against each other. The hosts, the UAE, bought up all the stadium’s tickets and allocated them for free to its citizens. Essentially, the UAE government turned a game of eleven vs. eleven into a game of eleven vs. 25,000. The lone Qataris on the pitch were beleaguered for the entirety of the match, altogether embroiled within an Emirati cauldron of violent noise.

Then, faced with the looming pressure of several thousand screaming voices, the Qataris went and had the audacity to humiliate their opponents 4-0. The victorious players were bombarded by the Emirati fans with water bottles and shoes after every goal, and riot police were on careful watch after the full-time whistle. In the words of Qatari resident Ella Pyne, “after so many people moved away or lost jobs, you can imagine what it feels like to beat [the UAE], even if it’s only in something as trivial as a football match.” Qatar didn’t just win against the UAE, it was more than that. The victory was political.

After winning against the Emiratis in the ‘blockade derby’ on the 29th, the icing was emphatically added to the Qatari metaphorical cake with a decisive 3-1 victory over Japan on Friday morning in the Asian Cup Final. The players, flowing with confidence following the semi-final victory against their geographical neighbor and political nemesis, truly cemented their status as national heroes.

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