For example, the BBC television show, The Big Questions, is a Sunday lunchtime staple for a UK audience made up of people interested in the burning moral issues of the day. Week in week out it debates questions and issues surrounding religion, abortion, criminal justice, minority rights, immigration, and so on. Host, Nicky Campbell, is never less than professional in skilfully navigating these difficult and divisive issues, ensuring that all views are given a fair hearing during the course of the debate.
In a recent episode the three questions asked were: Is it ethical to take part in the World Cup? Should you be able to self-declare your gender? And, can the British High Street be saved? Now some might think that those questions would have been more relevant if they’d been framed thus: Is the self-declaration of gender an example of identity politics gone mad? Is the British High Street worth saving? And, if Russia’s isn’t fit to host the World Cup, who is?
But, regardless, that’s another story.
In the UK itself, meanwhile, the nation’s liberal intelligentsia and commentariat took full advantage of the opportunity of London hosting the Olympics to wallow in British cultural and historical tropes, in which no cliché was spared. It was a time to celebrate all things British, to pat themselves on the back for the country’s supposed contribution to the world — for those values of tolerance, liberalism, and multiculturalism that make Britain special.
Ask the people of Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya about those British virtues and I’m sure they’d receive an entirely different reaction, and justifiably so, confirming that the attempt to delegitimize Russia’s right to host the World Cup is one that comes dripping in hypocrisy.
What it also confirms is that the oft-repeated mantra that sport and politics don’t mix is tantamount to unthinking nonsense. On the contrary, there is nothing more political than sport. And when it is a global sporting event like the Olympics or World Cup, the level of politics, whether overt or not so overt, is magnified accordingly.
Sadly, what people have also become accustomed to is the sight of Western ideologues exploiting these events to seize a specious moral high ground from which to engage in an unending exercise in virtue signaling.
Johnson went too far as to draw a parallel between the upcoming World Cup in Russia and the 1936 Olympics in Berlin – the so-called Nazi Olympics. Fortunately, in England more rational and wise voices made themselves heard in response. England national football team coach Gareth Southgate was prime among them.
The upcoming World Cup is an opportunity to transcend the issues that divide nations and to foment amity — if not between governments then certainly between peoples. The magic of football, or soccer, is that it speaks the same language regardless of cultural, religious, ethnic, or national differences in a way no other sport does or can. In the context of a World Cup it reminds us, however briefly, that strip away our differences we are one human family, enriched by our diversity rather than repelled by it, imbued with the same appreciation of the beautiful game.
Delving deeper, US author Dave Zirin has it right: “Sports are more than just a sounding board for war, graft, and mind-numbing moralism. It can also be a place of inspiration that doesn’t transcend the political but becomes the political, a place where we see our own dreams played out in dynamic Technicolor. Politics are remote and alien to the vast majority of people. But the playing field is where we can project our every thought, hope, and fear.”
The views and opinions expressed in this article by John Wight solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.