Politics in Sport

Colin Kaepernick (centre). From cnbc.com.

A long while ago, a fellow blogger posted along the lines of a professional sportsman should not be pulling publicity stunts for political gain. They were talking about Colin Kaepernick, do you remember him? He was an NFL player – at one time he was the starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, who went to one knee during the US National Anthem. It made mainstream news bulletins, even here, for a while afterwards – not least, we were all amused because it seemed to annoy Donald Trump!

It’s interesting to me because I broadly disagree, but it took a while to get my thoughts together, and a while more to knock a post into shape. So this one has been sitting in various stages of draft for a long while.

It boils down to two questions:

  1. Did the guy have a right to hold a view?
  2. Did he have the right to express that view while doing his job?

The first of those questions is easy. Of course he has a right to hold a view. Just the same as you or me. None of our societies say that because the guy is a sportsman, he doesn’t get to have a voice.

On the second question, I have a bit more sympathy. I can imagine that there are certain jobs where you need to put your personal view to one side. Be professional. Represent your employer’s interests, not your own. But does a footballer have such a job?

I can maybe understand that somebody might think they do, but I myself think not. I was never asked to leave my political views at the door, for one, so why should he? And the idea that the 49ers checked that the guy’s politics were sound before they hired him, a guy who became their starting quarterback…. It is just a hunch but I would wager that Kaepernick got the job because of his sporting prowess, not because of his ability to behave himself.

There are precedents here, too, where sport has been used as a weapon when we don’t agree with someone, at all sorts of levels. On the one hand, we just need to think back to the schoolyard – I’m not playing with Johnny because he’s an asshole. And, it gets bigger. Not playing sport with South Africa during the apartheid era, or the US boycotting the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, or the USSR boycotting the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles as a tit-for-tat. Furthermore, these boycotts transcended amateur/professional boundaries – I still remember the days when Rugby Union was amateur, and still, nobody would play against the Springboks.

So, there are all sorts of precedents for sportsmen to put politics over sport – we don’t like your behaviour toward such-and-such, so we will not play sport with you.

Maybe on that point we could argue that the sportsmen would have been happy to play, but it was the politicians who spoiled the show? But that is precisely my point – when sport and politics go head to head, politics wins out.

As regards the form of the protest, Kaepernick chose a form that many people hold dear. Maybe Kaepernick held it dear, too,and maybe that is just a measure of his dissatisfaction? Even if Kaepernick never gave a stuff about the flag, maybe he deliberately chose it because he know that other people did hold it dear? Does that not also give an indication of the level of Kaepernick’s dissatisfaction?

I think that a country can behave rightly or wrongly, just as an individual can behave rightly or wrongly. So, when people think it is behaving wrongly, what do they do? Do they call it out or let it slide? Does a country have our unequivocal support, no matter what it does?

There is a goal here of making a better society, and for me it is a no-brainer to call out the bad things, so we can try to improve them. Right and wrong is what matters here, not where we happened to be born.

I’d even take that a step further. A country is largely represented by its government. The way a country behaves towards its people, towards other countries, these things are basically the policies of its government. The government is political, and so we should we stop and ask ourselves whether the protest isn’t political too.

On the subject of the protest itself, I am happy to take Kaepernick’s view on board, and decide for myself (a) whether I care, and (b) what view I take. If the athlete withes maybe to raise my awareness of the issue, no problem. It’s only really the same as me using this blog to make people aware of my pet issues.

The last thing that I wanted to talk about was the #MeToo effect. My own experience after my stroke was to think along the lines that I was the only person on earth who could be going through what I was going through. I cringe at that now, because I know it was rubbish. In fact once I was well enough, I actively started looking for peers who might help me learn to live with myself. Knowing that there are other people who have been through, who are going through, what we’re going through, is important. Just look how #MeToo has raised the profile of sexual harassment.

So not only do I take my hat off to Kaepernick, but I salute him for being the first. If other sportsmen agreed with him, and subsequently followed his example, then maybe he highlighted a real problem after all?

Who Won The Week (19 January 2020)

I have Fandango to thank for this title – he has been posting regularly on this subject from his west-coast-USA vantage point. I am interested in current affairs too, and normally have some nonsense or other to spout about one of the UK’s topical news stories. So, I like to join in. Maybe there’s something in your world that you’d like to post about?

I must admit I don’t really have a stand-out winner this week, but I thought I’d mention a story that has rumbled on in the UK for a few months now, and let you decide who the winner is.

The venue is RAF Croughton, in Northamptonshire. About 100 miles due north of London. The base is a US listening post, and stationed there was a guy called Jonathan Sacoolas. He is an American serviceman. On 27th August last, 19yo Harry Dunn was knocked off his motorcycle outside the base, and was tragically killed.

Dunn was killed by a car allegedly driving the wrong way down the highway, driven by Sacoolas’s wife, Anne. Anne Sacoolas is also American, and for the duration of their posting, the pair had diplomatic immunity in the UK.

I guess Anne Sacoolas panicked, and she hightailed it back to the USA the very next day.

A police investigation followed. The laws here seem to be quite reasonable. They range from one extreme, where the incident is treated as a tragic accident, and nothing further is done, to the driver being charged and facing prison time – if it goes that way, the death can be treated as seriously as murder.

The police investigation found that Dunn had been hit by a car driving the wrong way, and that the car had been driven by Mrs Sacoolas. In fact, the local police thought that the weight of evidence was so great that they issued a warrant for her arrest.

But there was the problem, because Mrs Sacoolas was no longer around. So the warrant for her arrest became a warrant for her extradition. As you can imagine, the case has to’d and fro’d these last few months. Dunn’s parents even flew out to meet with Donald Trump in the White House.

Now, I don’t fully understand the ins and outs of Diplomatic Immunity, but it appears that in Mrs Sacoolas’s case, it is worthless. She could still be charged with the crime. As things stand currently, a request for her extradition has been sent to the US.

In amongst all these events, there is the bluster. Dunn’s father, Tim, tried to hijack an appearance by the UK Foreign Secretary, during the recent election campaign. (Dunn said he was frustrated at not being granted an audience with the Foreign Secretary under normal circumstances.) On Monday of this week, he appeared on TV, saying he was very confident that Mrs Sacoolas would be extradited. He pointed out that even if the request were stonewalled by the current administration, then the warrant had no expiry, so possibly the next administration would see things more favourably. I thought that point was a very good one.

However, on Tuesday (the next day), Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, appeared in a lengthy interview on breakfast TV. The interviewer could not resist asking about Harry Dunn.

I have got to give Johnson credit where it is due, for his honesty. He said that he thought that there was next to no chance of obtaining an extradition. Which is probably absolutely right.

I can imagine that this case has severely rattled our government. But at the end of the arguments, the question boils down to whether one person’s life outweighs the especially fragile relationship that the UK has with the US at the moment, under the Trump administration. We can all decide that Trump is an idiot (and lots of people here have) but the nature of our relationship with the US depends a lot on the relationship we have with its president.

So my gut feel is that the UK’s politicians have done exactly what they needed to do, to be able to say they acted correctly. And when the extradition doesn’t happen, they can plausibly blame the Trump administration for that. So Johnson is quite right when he says candidly that there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of Mrs Sacoolas being extradited. Johnson to me seems to lack the attention to detail needed to be a good Prime Minister, but his gut feel, in this case at least, is probably on the mark.

The latest twist? Well, Mr Dunn appeared on TV again Wednesday, slamming Johnson for his pessimism. I myself don’t see much contradiction. Dunn has to have hope, Johnson has to have pragmatism.

So, who won? Watch this space…

Home Truths

I can quite happily take a view on climate change, but I must admit that some questions on the subject make me deeply uncomfortable.

One such question is about geography. I am fortunate enough to be in the UK, an industrialised, developed country. I have my warm cosy house, with my central heating. I muse on WordPress through my laptop, through my wifi, through my router. I watch my TV in the evening through my satellite box. If I need to speak to someone, I pick up my cellphone. When we go shopping each week, there is an enormous supermarket we go to in our car, where we can buy not just milk, say, but ten different types of milk!

Not least I see pictures of Australia burning, yet I look out of my window and see the rain steadily falling. Climate change? Not in my backyard!

It is all very well for me to wag my finger and say we should do this, or we should do that, but I am aware that I am speaking from a position of privilege.

I can’t help wondering what if I lived in the developing world? I’d probably look at all the gadgets I have and think I’d like some of that, if you don’t mind. And there are people like me wagging my finger. It is okay for me to have power to light my house, to heat me and my food, to charge my phone or my laptop, but please don’t build that new coal-fired power station so you can have these things too.

Indeed, we could probably say that the whole process of warming came with the industrial revolution, which started in the UK, so you could reasonably argue that the UK bears a bigger responsibility for climate change than anybdy else.

But actually, that analogy eases the discomfort somewhat. The UK is guilty of all manner ills in the world, one example being its aggressive desire to conquer everyone else. But I reconciled that years ago – even though I am from the UK I can quite happily look at that and say it was wrong. And I can’t go beating myself up over the sins of other people, hundreds of years ago. As long as I am happy that I am doing the right thing, that’s as far as I can go.

It is a very uncomfortable issue – the developed world was okay to pollute the atmosphere, but because it now knows the consequences, the developing world should not. But I suppose, in the same way that I can acknowledge that for the UK, the past is the past, and just because we have behaved badly, does not mean other countries should behave badly too… I can say the same about how we should regard climate change.

I don’t pretend a conclusion here. In fact I don’t see a nice, neat answer, that’s why I am uncomfortable about it. How does the developing world catch up? How do the people there raise their standard of living to what we enjoy? Without, that is, destroying the planet along the way? I mean, that has to be the goal, doesn’t it? Or, do we just think we have to stay as we are, without equal qualities of life? If you have an answer, I’d be grateful.


Another issue – I don’t feel personal discomfort about it but my conclusion makes for uncomfortable reading. Just the whole issue of climate change. That is, man-made climate change. To many of us it is not just there, but it is obvious. In your face obvious. So, why do governments not take action about it? You know, governments can make whatever noises they like, but here in the UK, coal extraction receives its biggest subsidies ever, until recently the government was very friendly indeed to the idea of fracking (tremors? what tremors?), while there are corresponding bans on things like wind turbines. Germany does a whopping business in open cast coal mines, thank you very much. We think of Germany as leading the way in renewable tech, but its coal mining industry isn’t doing badly, either.

So, why don’t governments act?

My contention is that the five-year-rule comes into play. Everything might well go belly up, but I will be long gone from office when it does. Better still, I’ll be dead and gone, if it takes long enough. Someone else’s problem. Shall I say anything about Scott Morrison here, or shall I just leave it to the reader’s imagination?

So there is this competition between making money rather than taking action. We need to take action one day, but for now let’s just keep on exploiting what we can to make ourselves richer. Cue Jair Bolsonaro!

So, my next question becomes…One Day. Will One Day ever be “now”?

On current evidence, no. All that bush is now gone – there are still plans to open a mine in Queensland. Wouldn’t you have thought they’d be a tiny bit cautious, just in case those 90% of world scientists are right?

And people – the majority of us – are voting for this. Morrison was re-elected in Australia in only 2019. Same in the UK. Brazil, 2018. USA, 2016. It’s not as if these regimes had been in power for donkey’s years and can’t be removed. People – you and me, here and now – are actively endorsing money over climate action – even as I write.

So will we recognise when the time to act has arrived? Well, what do you think I think?

There is an extension to all this too. To all those people who feel that there is a problem, but that technology will come along and save the day – what do you think the petrochemical companies will do when they start to see this wonder-technology taking their revenue from them?

Okay, it doesn’t necessarily follow that technology which reduced CO2 would harm carbon emitters, but what if it did? Do you think the petrochems (which, by the way, are worth billions) are going to embrace it warmly and willingly, and just go out of business?

There are more questions on this, not least do we all just turn around and say fuck it and go our own sweet ways until the inevitable end? But that’s enough for today.