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Sports and Politics in the Digital Age: A Recipe for Success or Destined for Disaster?

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Michael Haddad explores whether politics should have a place in sport and whether this has increased in today’s age.

Over the last decade, social media’s popularity has surged to an astronomical level, allowing people to display their opinions for a global audience to see in just a matter of seconds. This has given athletes and other role models a huge platform to speak on social and political issues, however the extent to which people believe that athletes should be expressing their political opinion vary. Recently, Zlatan Ibrahimović came under fire as he argued that ‘athletes should be athletes and politicians should do politics’ and ‘athletes unite the world and politics divides it’ while voicing his displeasure for Lebron James and his constant political comments. James responded by stating that he would ‘never shut up about things that are wrong’ as he believes he is the voice of his community and that he needs to use his platform to shed light on all the problems he believes his community and, the rest of the world, are facing. Many other NBA athletes came to James’ defence, with Portland Centre Enes Kanter saying that athletes speak up to ‘hold these regimes accountable’ and former NBA champion Jeremy Lin highlighting potential double standards between athletes getting praise for donating money and athletes getting hate for speaking from the platform they’ve earnt.

Both Kanter and Lin have been very vocal over their own concerns, with Lin highlighting concerns over racism towards Asian-Americans going under the radar after he was called ‘Coronavirus’ during a G -League game and Kanter had his passport revoked in 2017 after speaking out against Erdogan’s regime.

This comes three years after Fox News host Laura Ingraham received huge backlash from athletes, celebrities, and social media users alike after she told Lebron James to ‘shut up and dribble’ because he voiced his concerns over former President Trump’s handling of social affairs.

Evidently, athletes expressing their political opinions is a point of major contention, so what are the arguments for and against athletes using their platform to demonstrate their political stance? For one, many people argue that it is important for athletes to speak out on issues as they act as role models to children around the globe and by speaking out, these role models are inspiring children to speak their opinion and fight for what they believe to be right. Moreover, in countries where injustice is ubiquitous, athlete’s words of support can help young children affected feel less isolated. On the flip side, opposers of the issue argue that since these athletes have a global platform, their words are important and what they say could influence the public’s beliefs.

The James and Ibrahimović discussion potentially highlights a major difference between opinions American and European culture as it is rare for a European athlete to make headlines in the media over an opinion, because athletes in Europe do not tend to voice their thoughts. However, this is changing for the better, with English footballers, Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford, amongst others, voicing their concerns about the overt culture of racism in football leading to support for Black Lives Matters across Europe’s top leagues and legislation holding social media platforms more accountable over racist comments made by users. Rashford has even challenged the British Government as he led a campaign against child poverty and was granted an MBE for his efforts.

In a world so divided, where no one agrees to disagree anymore, maybe it is important to urge athletes to voice their opinions. Not only does it shed light on the problems of the world, it can also have a positive impact on future generations as they learn the importance of their platform and how it can be used to spread positivity. Additionally, if we can get athletes, the world’s biggest role models, to engage in healthy discussion and debate, we can start to move forward as a society and work towards solving injustices as a community.


Edited by: Lois George

Header by: Christos Alamaniotis

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Label Sport Editor 2020-21

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