The Growing Influence of Politics on Sports

Politics often overreaches its bounds and becomes involved in parts of life that most people would prefer it stay out of. Target number one: sports.

As we all know, the vast majority of Middle Eastern nations aren’t exactly friendly with Israel. Among these nations is the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a nation with no diplomatic ties with Israel. The UAE also happens to be the nation in which the burgeoning metropolis of Dubai is located, a city due to play host to a World Tennis Association (WTA) Tour event this week. One of the constant presences on the WTA is Shahar Peer, two-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist and an Israeli citizen. No Israeli professional athlete has ever competed in an event in the UAE, and Peer was slated to be the first. Last Sunday, however, the government of the UAE denied her a visa, preventing Peer from entering the country, and thus, from competing in the event. The WTA took a weak stance, mildly criticizing the organizers of the event, but, of course, in the interest of finances, allowed the tournament to continue, with its future status “pending further review by the tour’s board of directors.” Anyone with any sense of sports, and a mild grasp of the wealth of Dubai, realizes that all this meeting will be is an opportunity to bribe the WTA board into allowing the tournament to carry on as if nothing happened. This is just one more incident to add to the rapidly growing list of unwelcome government involvement in the sporting world.

Most sports fans would certainly hope that governments would allow athletes from other unfriendly nations to at least compete within their borders. Some decide, in the end, that it is not their role to interfere with athletics, demonstrated when the North and South Korean soccer teams play one another, or when the Cuban baseball team comes to the United States for the World Baseball Classic. Others, like the New Zealand government, decide to mix sport and politics, a combination that no one wants. A World Cup Qualifier between New Zealand and Fiji in October of 2007 had to be cancelled because the New Zealand government, much like the UAE government, refused to grant a visa to a Fijian player, because of his father-in-law’s ties to a 2006 military coup. The player himself was not at all involved, but because his wife’s father was, he was denied entry. If you can’t see the absurdity in that, especially considering we’re talking about sports, then we have bigger issues to handle.

Inevitably, the issue of government interference in sports also comes up every two years, when either the Winter or Summer Olympics are held. It isn’t difficult to recall the pleas many groups had to George W. Bush, calling on him to boycott the Beijing Olympics because of China’s atrocious human rights record. Luckily for Americans, that clamoring will die down for the next two Olympiad, to be held in Vancouver and London, cities in two very friendly nations. Expect the calls for a boycott to be stronger than ever in 2014 though, as the Winter Olympics will be held in Sochi, a Black Sea resort in Russia. Hopefully, as with the 2008 Olympics, we’ll have a sports fan in the White House who acknowledges the idiocy associated with the boycott of an Olympics, an event meant to celebrate athletics in its purest form, not an event with the intention of pitting two governments against one another.

Getting away from international conflicts, there is one very relevant instance of the government becoming far too involved in our sports, one that has been in the news endlessly for what seems like an eternity. I’m talking, of course, about steroid use in baseball. We all remember Rafael Palmeiro and his finger-wagging tirade against Congress, claiming he did not use steroids (on a different note, Palmeiro’s positive steroid test four months after his testimony is one of the most ironic moments in sports history). We remember Mark McGwire, well, “not remembering” anything. We’ve seen and are still constantly reminded of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens perjuring themselves in front of grand juries and Congress. All of this, all of these lies, simply makes me wonder: “Why?” Why is Congress wasting its time with such frivolous issues as steroids in baseball? For one, any reasonable observer will note that steroid use is obviously worse in football than it is in baseball, but we hear nothing about that. Secondly, with the country mired in an awful recession, certainly Congress has better, more important things to attend to. Unfortunately, we have power-hungry politicians, oh so eager to see their names in print as being the enforcers who took down baseball’s legends, forcing us to hear them over and over again on SportsCenter.

My message to politicians and governments: Just stop. You’re ruining sports. Sports are meant to be a venue of entertainment and leisure, not one to be taken as seriously as a $600 billion war, or an economy of the verge of launching us into another Great Depression. Politicians, stick to your politics. Let sports handle themselves.