Politics is Like Sports
At least around here, politics is too much like sports. If there was ever a fatal flaw in foreign relations, it’s that there exists a strange part of political discourse that says athletic competitions can make political statements. In this case, even football teams from different nations can’t play each other because of the intensity of their political and social conflicts. This is the sport that unites millions of people all over the world; and every few years the World Cup grabs everyone, even people who generally don’t watch football. Instead, the state of affairs in this region of the world has caused countries to stipulate that international football competitions cater to their current political situations. Russia can’t play against Georgia in the first rounds of the Euro Cup because of this scuffle last summer. And it turns out that Azerbaijan and Armenia won’t be playing each other, either.
I think it’s probably a sad commentary on the state of affairs in this region that the four countries right next to each other, interdependent, with significant shared history, cannot overcome the divisions because of the potential political and social repercussions of one team being victorious. Maybe even a draw would cause extra tension. In fact, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t matter who wins or loses the game. In the end, the results of having a match in something so popular as football probably would end up causing everyone to lose.
Despite my disappointment that these arrangements are being made, I can understand why the leaders of these countries, and the people who run the Euro Cup, are fixing their matches just so. While the scale of things might be a bit different, we can look to historical sports matches that carried immense political weight. The 1980 Miracle On Ice has become a legend of not only hockey superiority, but also a tale woven into a political story of Communism falling to Capitalism. And Max Schmeling’s loss to Joe Louis in 1938 has been spun into a story of freedom over fascism (this, after Schmeling first beat Louis in ’36 and was proclaimed a hero of Nazism by Goebbels). While I happen to be a beneficiary of those sporting events, being from the victorious country both in politics and sports, this really isn’t an ideal front to fight a battle of political ideas. And to imagine that it has any bearing on resolving who is right politically or socially is sort of a bizarre idea. It flies in the face of true social and political debate, replacing it with completely arbitrary rhetoric. And that rhetoric is based on something, athletic prowess, that has a barely-tangential relationship to political ideas.
So in the end, we have the undesirable situation of politics trumping the spirit of sports. Yet, the alternative is an outcome that can be politically manipulated and spun for superficially political purposes. We generally don’t need any more of those things these days, right?