Moeen Ali, sport and politics

As well as writing this blog I sometimes comment on stories on the Daily Telegraph’s website. The debates can be “interesting” but I’ve never caused so much trouble as I did with my comments on the Moeen Ali affair. So I’m using this platform to explain my views on this issue.
For those who don’t know Moeen Ali is an english muslim cricketer who during the third Test between England and India came out to bat wearing wristbands saying “free Gaza” and “save Palestine”. The ECB who run english cricket said he’d done nothing wrong but the ICC the sport’s equivalent of FIFA banned him from wearing them. To my mind as a human being concerned about the death of children he had every right to comment on that issue. But the Telegraph’s readers slaughtered him coming out with that old chestnut “sport should be kept out of politics”.
There is one problem with this argument. Sport can’t be kept out of politics. The late great Nelson Mandela would confirm this. As did ex Pakistani cricketer Asif iqbal when he said “Sport is politicised the moment nation states take the decision to enter the sporting arena under their national banners” (Anyone but England, Mike Marquesee, page 250) Or Jennifer Doyle when she said “there is no such thing as an apoltical space” (The Sport Spectacle, Olympic Problem, August 2013). Sport is part of the real world. So is politics. They can’t avoid each other.
That raises the question: Why does the sporting establishment want to keep sport out of politics? What I am going to say now is just my theory. It might or might not be true.
I think – and most people would agree – that the sporting establishment can be racist, sexist homophobic, authoritarian and corrupt. Some governing bodies might be all of the above. As Margaret Talbot* says “sport remains one of the most conservative and inflexible areas of public life, lagging far behind other social structures”. Jean Williams has said “In England at least the topic of women’s sports should be more politicised” (A Game for Rough Girls? page 150). And Des Wilson ** asked “is sport accountable to no one? Why should it be unique in its ability to be so?”. Wilson has hit the nail on the head. The sporting establishment does not want to be accountable for its behaviour so by spreading the myth that sport and politics should be kept apart it prevents itself from suffering its worst nightmare. An independent regulator for sport as suggested by William Buckland in his book “Pommies” (pages 264-5) something that other industries face. Put simply the sporting establishment wants to do whatever it likes.
There is one irony though. By choosing dictatorships to host sporting events – from the 1934 World Cup to this years’ Winter Olympics – the sporting establishment causessport to be politicised as dictators from Mussolini to Putin use sports events as their “political plaything”. The sporting establishment in my opinion likes dictatorships – no pesky free press or protesters to worry about – so much so they don’t even realise they are bringing politics into their own events – the one thing they say they don’t want to do.
As for Moeen Ali yesterday he took six wickets to help win the Test match for England while being cheered by the crowd. That suggests either the public forgave him for his protest – or that they thought he had done nothing wrong in the first place. Either way the bigots of the “Torygraph” and the ICC are out of touch with the British public. Not for the first time…
*She was speaking at a European Women and Sport conference in 2000, but what she said could still apply today.
** Des Wilson is an interesting man. A New Zealander who came to Britain in 1960, among other things he founded the housing charity Shelter, stood as a Liberal candidate in Hove in 1973 and February 1974 and was the campaign manager of the Lib Dems in 1992. He was also a director of BAA plc and has written books on poker. He took a job at the ECB in 2003 but resigned a year later when he made the quote I used above. Described as an “anti-establishment radical” it will surprise no one that he is not now a Lib Dem and has been scathing about Nick Clegg (although he left the Lib Dems long before 2010). What does surprise me is that he took a job with the conservative and establishment ECB in the first place and it was no surprise to me he didn’t last long.

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