Foreign Policy Blogs

A Sporting Boycott?

There was a long span of time when the issue of the South African role in sport was arguably the single most contentious debate in the global sporting community and it was a discussion that came to transcend the voundaries of athletic competition to become a global concern. Sport reflected politics, sports intensified politics, sport revealed politics. From the Sharpeville Massacre in March 1960 South Africa fast became anathema, a skunk among nations, and within just a few years, South Africa was virtually isolated with the exception of a few rogue rugby tours that themselves provided tableaux for theaters of conflict.

 Suddenly Zimbabwe finds itself fighting off threats of a boycott. Zimbabwe-based Roman Catholic Archbishop and leading critic of Robert Mugabe Pius Ncube has spoken in support of Australia's national cricket team's proposed boycott of its scheduled tour in Zimbabwe.  Indeed, he hopes that the Aussies will boycott and that England, New Zealand and other prominent cricket-playing nations will follow suit. A number of Australian political officials have spoken up in recent weeks, calling for the Australian cricketers, once again crowned world champions in the latest World Cup, to cancel the scheduled September trip and instead to pay the $2 million (US) fine that would come from the International Cricket Council (ICC) rather than provide the propaganda boost that the tour would provide for Mugabe. Other Australian officials (and most in the Zim government, we can assume) argue that Australia has a responsibility to fulfill its tour obligations. Naturally the ICC responds with boilerplate cant

During the years of South Africa's exile there were those who argued that sport must be kept free of politics. those arguments almost always came from South Africa and its supporters, or from those nations whose national teams (New Zealand rugby, for example) stood to benefit from playing South African teams, or from conservatives who were unwilling to distance themselves from South Africa's apartheid politics. But the reality is that sport does not stand independent of politics, and like it or not, politics exist. Pretending that they do not is in and of itself a political statement, all the more feckless for being coached in apolitical terms.  Asserting that playing in Zimbabwe (or not so long ago in South Africa) is to take the apolitical role is to be both naive and self-serving. Australia should boycott the September test series. Isolate Zimbabwean sport.