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Sports—the key ingredient in social change

Tuesday, July 1, 2014
Things that Matter
Bernie Ecclestone and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Ecclestone was once quoted as saying “I don’t think sport should be involved in politics.”

Sport can be a source of conflict and tension in society. No matter how strong the argument that sport and politics should not mix. Sport is high profile and an emotional topic that receives a lot of public and media attention both negative and positive. The use of sport for political ends is not new.


History will show that sport and politics are always uneasy running mates despite leaders who try their best to avoid politics and to refrain from being seen as political. Yet for all the warnings sport can’t seem to escape the political radar.


On the local front Houses before Horses, Tarouba and the Brian Lara Stadium, the cancellation of the Caribbean Games are a few examples. Regardless of the merits, well-meaning objectives and well-argued cases made in respect of the benefits. Sport came away the loser as no one making the important decisions cared about the intentional and unintentional negative consequences for sport.


One can imagine the sense of frustration when trying to make the point that sport is the victim and not the perpetrator. The task is near impossible as no reasonable person is prepared to listen given the strong public opinion at the moment in time.


The best interest of sport and the positive role sport can play cannot be served unless the sustainable development of sport and its full potential is a priority and focus.


The positive aspects of sport and its potential as a force for good are undermined by negative aspects outside of sport.


Who cares if the country’s national pride and self-esteem receives a healthy boost whenever our national teams and national sportsmen and women achieve success on the global stage?


In calmer moments the positive possibilities and opportunities are widely recognised among Governments, civil society and the private and public sector.


There is no doubt that sport has proven its worth as a powerful vehicle for positivity from grassroots to elite sports.


Some of the negative issues are a reflection of society at large however the values and norms of sport, such as fairplay, equality and tolerance, are the same values that form the pillars of a strong society and country.


John Sugden put it best when he said that understanding the role that sport can play in the relationship between political and civil society is key to understanding any role it can have in promoting progressive social change.


In an article entitled ‘Can sport and politics be separated?’ author Shaun McCarthy made the point that sport reflects society and the politics of the state.


Even though many sport leaders share the view of Bernie Ecclestone who was once quoted as saying “I don’t think sport should be involved in politics.”


Keir Radnedge argued the point that Sport is involved in politics and politics is involved in sport and that sport has always existed in the political fabric of a society and the organisational bodies that manage sport also function within a social matrix.


Here in T&T the politicisation of sport for the purpose of image making and political legitmisation is not a new trend. Its impact on the governance, management and leadership of sport both positive and negative requires further research but has been known for some time.


The pattern of integrating sport into the political narrative and agenda as uncomfortable as it maybe cannot be ignored.


Sport leaders have to pay close attention at all times.


When sport finds itself in the political arena as a convenient tool it comes away with the rotten end of the stick.


Brian Lewis is the President of the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee. The views expressed are not necessarily those of the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee.


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