I’m not one of those people who, in 1981, insisted that politics and sport don’t mix*. Au contraire, I think that politics and sport overlap mightily.
Politics – whether it’s international or national or local or office or family – is about answering the question “how shall we live together?” There are many possible answers, some better than others, and only one that is utterly wrong: that we won’t live together. That’s the answer of such all-time schmucks as Lenin and Hitler and Milosevic and bin Laden.
At the heart of politics, then, are profound ethical questions about relationships, which get played out in practical questions of policy such as tax and welfare and roads and crime. There’s plenty of room for honest passionate debate.
Sport, too, is concerned with ethics. It’s about playing to the letter and the spirit of a set of rules. It’s about respecting your opponents and the ref. It’s about coming together to change the rules to produce a better game for everyone, finding the right balance between competition and cooperation: which is a pretty good metaphor for a successful society and economy, when you think about it.
The thing about sport is that it is more engaging for more people than party politics most of the time. I’d say that’s a good thing, most of the time: it’s how people work through deep ethical questions in a constructive, rather than destructive, way. And it helps to keep in check the egos of people who want authority over us.
Which is why I really think it’s a shame that political players try to hijack sports to burnish their own popularity during election season.
Two cases recently, from really opposite ends of the spectrum:
Give it a rest, guys. Go at each other all you like but, please please please, leave the All Blacks out of it.
* And I’d just make the point that in 1981 it was politics that used sport, not the other way around. Muldoon needed a wedge issue to win the election by a single seat, even with a massively gerrymandered electoral system. The NZRFU were too blind to see how cynically they were being used, which is not surprising given they were too blind to see the rottenness of playing with apartheid.