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Sport and politics – a slow motion car crash

30 March 20230 comments

Sport and politics have long been uncomfortable bedfellows.

From the 1936 Berlin Games to apartheid era cricket and rugby matches and to the boycott of the Moscow Olympics, the intersection of sport and political causes have always generated passionate emotions.

Today we see debates over Russian tennis players being able to take part in the world’s big tournaments, anger over Qatar’s sports-washing of its human rights record and bemusement around Saudi Arabia’s attempted sponsorship of the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

So when former England soccer star turned sports broadcaster Gary Lineker tweeted that the language used by the UK government in setting out its immigration and asylum policy was like “that used by Germany in the 30s”, he opened the door on a political firestorm.

But he also raised some important questions.

When is speaking out against government policies that fly in the face of accepted international law, and that put people at extreme risk by forcing them into either persecution or destitution inappropriate?

And when is challenging the use of language that is designed to turn the public against an entire cohort of people politically partisan?

The answer is that there is a difference between calling out human rights abuses and being politically partisan.

Former Socceroo captain and human rights activist Craig Foster says shining a light on these situations and using them to build a better future is vital in creating social progress through sport.

“It’s really difficult, but it’s important that we continue to keep having the conversation,” he said.

“And everyone around the world has a right to be involved in sport unless and until they are committing egregious human rights abuses.

“All countries have human rights issues, including Australia, there’s a basic threshold beyond which you have to say, ‘That’s enough.’ South Africa with apartheid was a great example. The international community said they could not participate.

“But it’s important we have a benchmark and the framework to measure everyone against.

“The big challenge now is human-rights-abusing countries that have serious, egregious issues on basic women’s rights, basic labour rights, things that we take for granted.

Cricket Australia opted to withdraw from the series based on the Taliban’s policy of refusing to allow women to participate in sport.

Foster believes other sports should be inspired by Cricket Australia’s decision.

“I thought the Australian Cricket Board did a fantastic job,” he said.

“I thought it was the right decision. Any country, in my view, who does not allow women to play sport or participate in sport at all, they therefore forfeit any membership of international sport.

“This is where the politics at the very high level have to always be challenged, and that’s why we need the players’ voice in particular, which is why they’re growing in volume.

“It’s appropriate Australia takes that stance. We take tremendous pride in the continuing journey towards gender equity.

“If a country cannot even allow women to play sport, how can Australia play against them and legitimise them when they’re oppressing women? It’s simply not possible,” Foster said

There is no easy answer to the irregular arrival of refugees across the globe.

In an ideal world people should be free to move across the globe to seek refuge from persecution, war and famine.

But the world is divided into sovereign states that have the right to restrict immigration; and many governments use immigration and migrants as a political weapon to demonise “others”.

Often, the narrative is that migrants or refugees are a strain on scarce resources in health, education, housing and welfare.

Over the past few decades – since the International Convention on Refugees was created in 1951 – many states have limited freedom of travel.

The Refugee Convention, of which both the UK and Australia are signatories, defines refugee status and provides that those who qualify are entitled to international protection and that they are not to be returned to any territory of feared persecution.

If refugees enter a country unlawfully directly from the country of persecution and present themselves promptly to the authorities of the country of refuge, they cannot be penalised for having entered unlawfully. And if detained, it cannot be longer than is reasonably required for their status to be regularised or they obtain admission in another country – the important protection however is they cannot be refouled without their cases being examined somewhere.

The idea behind human rights protection is that it is universal and governments are supposed to be driven to find solutions to political problems that do not involve violations of human rights.

This is what Gary Lineker’s tweet was trying to say.