Over the years and across the globe many athletes have transitioned from sportsperson to politician, effectively and seamlessly, some more than others. Then there are those who haven’t been able to get a passing grade.
We can point to Muhammad Ali, who was an influential figure during the African-American Civil Rights Movement to Imran Khan in Pakistan, ex-cricketer and now Prime Minister and boxer Manny Pacquiao. Former NBA star Kevin Johnson served as Mayor of Sacramento, California between 2008-2016. And a few weeks ago, former Jamaican Olympic silver medallist and World Championship gold medallist Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn was named Minister of State in the Ministry of Health and Wellness in Jamaica.
We have seen people in several fields having an interest in politics both here and abroad. Some of them feel they can use their popularity effectively while for former sporting personalities, being involved in politics allows them to remain in the limelight. Some maintain good intentions and proper practice along with the limelight while others, well, let's leave it as them just being comfortable in the position.
It is agreed that former athletes with a huge following and visibility have the power to create an impact while speaking about social issues. They certainly have an edge having already made a good name for themselves as active athletes. When successful athletes speak, even when not as politicians, it tends to get a great deal of attention. The thing is, not every athlete is capable of this. They should have had similar impact in their active days with success and a strong following before expecting that to transfer onto the political arena.
Politics and sports have always had a sort of inseparable quality about them, both cast as two fundamental building blocks upon which citizens of a country have forged their unique identity. Ever noticed how often sporting promoters or organisations have Prime Ministers and Ministers at their major events, whether it be to launch a tournament or initiative, meet the teams before kick off or present the winning cheque or trophy?
On the flip side though, how many times do you see top sporting personalities, unless they are being honoured, invited as special guests to major government functions or ceremonies? Even if they end up on an invitation list, how many times are they listed as a featured guest? Interesting right?
Politics and sports intersect frequently and most times defines the way citizens of a nation view themselves or are viewed around the world. And like it or not, it always influences our cultural conversations. Arguably, persons across the globe are able to identify us easier and relate to our country more often through sporting personalities such as Dwight Yorke, Brian Lara, Ato Boldon or Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard, more than any politician.
There are other athletes who would have similar effects but much too many to mention here. For instance, our footballers who have plied their trades in the UK, Europe or the Americas where a city of a million plus population could relate to or identify with T&T, causing more awareness than any politician can.
What exactly is it that has compelled such a strong relationship between sports and politics throughout history and especially so in the last 50 years? Could it be the athlete’s ability to collaborate, get along and understand the dynamics within a team structure being what makes them suitable for politics? Perhaps they understand more about what it means to serve and represent a community or country with pride and honour.
Successful athletes tend to already come from a structure that makes the transition a wee bit easier. Successful Athletes generally have sound management skills, strong work ethic and have already established in-roads in their local communities. It is, thus, much easier to become an established political brand when everyone knows you and perhaps believes in you.
Athletic prowess whether as a coach or athlete has also often been associated with masculinity, toughness and charisma, attributes which people generally find attractive in their leaders.
There are cases where leaders, autocrats, and powerful individuals have frequently used sports to assert their political dominance. History shows us when in 1936, Hitler attempted to use the Olympics to show off his regime and its ideologies to the rest of the world, but was undermined by Jesse Owens.
Owens, the African-American track and field athlete, made a political statement when he won four gold medals, beating the athletes representing Hitler’s Germany on their home turf. Owens’ motivation for victory was never explicitly political but due to the climate surrounding the Games, he had made a statement nonetheless.
It is critical that those with ambitions to continue serving country via the political platforms take on the challenge like Owens did, aiming to make an impactful, positive statement, nonetheless.
Shaun Fuentes is the head of TTFA Media. He is a former FIFA Media Officer at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa and currently a CONCACAF Competitions Media Officer. The views expressed are solely his and not a representation of any organisation.