I do not need to drag politics into sports. Politics has always been there in sports. In Botswana there is ample evidence that political party activists have used and are using sports as a springboard to higher political fortunes. While you are cheering your team, some party functionary is busy calculating the political capital that accrues from his or her involvement in sports administration. Sports have always been a currency of political combat.
People participate in and watch sports events for many different reasons. For some people, sports stands for national sovereignty and personal honour, physical fulfilment and intellectual satisfaction and so on. Sport also involves ethnic loyalties and rivalries, symbolic rituals and iconic heroes. Sports can provide a profound sense of belonging, human solidarity and physical immediacy. For instance, without sport a good many lives would be empty. For many people, sports provide meaning in life. Sports in this sense become a way of life and not a weekend ritual. The sports field or the stadium is where many ordinary people can feel a sense of corporate existence denied them elsewhere. Sports makes up for all sorts of deprivation. Sports can also be a way of keeping people harmlessly distracted while they are not working.
It is important for people to be clear about their involvement in sports. We need to be more reflective about the role of sports in society. If we are not alert to such issues we may find ourselves being manipulated by people whose interest is to control and manage our lives for their own political ends.
It is important to think about your involvement or role in sports. Are you a player (in the field or sitting on a bench as part of reserve)? Are you a mere spectator? Are you a sponsor? Are you game official, or a sports administrator with political ambitions? Are you a service provider, i.e security detail attending to some political heavy weight?
From personal experience, being a spectator can be hazardous.
I was sitting in the midst of cheering fans. The spectator sitting behind me got carried away by the magic of the beautiful game and started kicking me repeatedly on the spine with his sharp-pointed shoes. He was riveted by watching other people physically expressing themselves on the field and in his daze he turned me into a football.
In the modern world, sports seem to be gradually replacing religion as a tool for the derailment and subsequent pacification of the masses. Sports can be used as cocaine of the people. Sports can serve the purpose of distracting the populace from meaning social and political action.
Ferdinand Marcos distracted a whole revolutionary movement in the Philippines by hosting the Thrilla in Manila, the battle royal between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali. Even the despised tyrant Mobutu Sese Seko tried to ingratiate himself into the hearts of the sports loving people of the world by hosting something called Rumble in the Jungle involving top-notch boxers. He did this after helping deprive the world of Patrice Lumumba and while he was looting the country big time. Even Adolf Hilter’s Nazi administration hosted the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin where the Fuhrer behaved outrageously. Even President D. Roosevelt is reported to have refused to shake sprinter Jesse-Owens’s hand in congratulation. Jesse-Owens had won four gold Medals at the games and he was truly young, gifted, black and beautiful!
Instead of going to stadiums and pay to cheer their teams, people could use the time to read a newspaper from back to front, write a petition to their member of parliament or councillor find out why there are no library and internet facilities in their local community when liquor spots are ubiquitous, meet their neighbours to clean and conserve their environment, do a bit of gardening, play with their kids, or examine their relationships with their spouses and partners. Sport can serve the purpose of distracting us from thinking about the truth and the reality of our lives.
If sporting activities are to be an integral part of our lives, we need to reflect on its role in society, lest we stupefy ourselves with sports and obsession with sport celebrities while our cities and villages rot, violence erupts in our schools, the food prices skyrocket, the pay packets shrink and the capitalists laugh all the way to the bank. It is not an act of God that in Old Naledi there are no golf courses, rather, it is due to the skewed manner in which we allocate resources in our society.