So Russia has been suspended by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) after the shocking report by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) which accused Russia of state sponsored doping and also deliberately destroying 1,417 doping samples. Equally sinisterly it suggested that any Russian athlete who did not agree to take drugs would not be considered part of the national team – in effect told to cheat or they would not be selected. There is now a danger that Russian athletes will be banned from competing in the Rio Olympics next year. I suspect that will not happen – the rest of the world won’t want to offend Vladimir Putin – but in any case it is not only Russia that should be banned from the Olympics – it is all countries that should be banned from the Olympics – both in 2016 and forever. It is the very existence of national teams that makes the drugs problem worse.
People will say that I am mad but the fact is sport and nationalism is an utterly toxic mix. One suspects that the reason the Russian doping programme existed was as a propaganda tool – they wanted to gain victories for mother Russia and prove Russia’s superiority over the West. This is not the first time a rotten regime has done this. Every dictator in history – from Mussolini to Hitler to Stalin to East Germany to Putin among others – has used sport – especially the (male) football World Cup and the Olympics – for propaganda purposes. And why? Because the competitors are representing their countries. Time for a change.
If I were in charge of the Olympics all countries would be banned. Athletes would compete merely as individuals. Only individual sports would be allowed. Team sports like football, hockey, basketball, handball and volleyball would be out. Even team events in individual sports (like the relays in athletics) would not be allowed. In tennis doubles teams where the players are from two different countries – for example the current best women’s doubles team of Swiss Martina Hingis and Indian Sania Mirza – would be allowed to play together. Teams would compete under the Olympic flag and medalists would hear the Olympic anthem instead of their own*. TV, radio and newspapers would be banned from even mentioning the competitors’ nationality which should be totally irrelevant.** The Olympics should also be hosted permanently in Athens to stop a bidding war between would be host cities.
Banning national teams would not stop doping – plenty of individuals do it from all countries – but it might stop state sponsored doping as the Olympics would not be a propaganda tool for dictatorships anymore. But there is another reason why nationality should be taken out of sport. In my opinion we cannot get racism out of sport as long as it is based on national teams because by definition national teams are racist. Not only that but sport has been used by racists for their own ends. The classic example being ex Conservative minister Norman Tebbit who said immigrants to the UK should support England at cricket to prove their loyalty to the UK (this became known as the “cricket test”). But surely individuals should be free to support whoever they want?
And in individual sports – and in global sports like the Premier League in the UK – people do support whoever they want to. The big football clubs in the UK and Europe have fans all over the world. So do tennis stars like Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, the Williams sisters, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka. And that is the way it should be.
And yet another reason why national teams should be got rid of is that they are out of date. They worked perfectly well when people stayed in the same country all their lives and married people from the same country. Neither happens now so you get dual nationals – people who either have parents from two different countries or were born in one country but moved to another country when they were young. These people can play for more than one country but get vilified whatever choice they make. People who were not born in the UK but have a parent who was and thus are able to play for the UK and choose to do so are called “Plastic Brits” – a horrible phrase – while footballer Sydney le Roux gets stick for choosing the US over Canada and would have got stick had she made the opposite choice.
Frankly sport needs to wean itself off national teams. In the ideal world individual sports and club teams should dominate and the latter should be able to field anyone they want. In fact any club that restricts itself to signing players from its own country – or even bans players from its own country like Athletic Bilbao with its evil basque only policy – should be banned. For ever. End of story.
People say politics should be kept out of sport. That is impossible as politics are part of society and so is sport. People who think that confuse politics with nationalism. Which needs to be taken out of sport as soon as possible. And a useful side effect of getting national teams out of sport would be no World Cup and no European Championship in football – which means no need for ghastly FIFA or UEFA as the clubs could – and should – run the Champions League themselves. A world without FIFA? Now that is a good idea…
*As happened at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow when athletes from some countries (including the UK) competed in defiance of requests by their governments to boycott them. These countries were not allowed to use their own flag or national anthem.
**This should also apply to TV radio and newspaper coverage of domestic football leagues like the Premier League. Most fans don’t give a toss about a player’s nationality – I know I don’t – and the media should reflect this.