The sport, a powerful political tool

Photo: Eric Feferberg Agence France-Presse
At the winter Games in Torino, in 2006, the athletes of north and south koreans had marched together during the opening ceremony.

The participation of athletes from north korea in the olympic Games in Pyeongchang is the first step towards a lasting peace between the two Koreas ? One thing is for certain, this combination is unexpected from neighbouring countries on the background of the nuclear threat shows once again that sport is a powerful political tool.

It took more than two years for the representatives of North Korea and South Korea agree to sit around the same table. And if the two countries have agreed to put water in their wine, and to soothe the tensions ambient, at least for the moment, it is in large part thanks to the sport.


“The olympics are a diplomatic instrument. […] They have brought forward, and formed a pretext for a reconciliation, which, without it, would not have been possible or salable politically, as well in North Korea as in South Korea, ” noted this week, the director of the Institute of international and strategic relations) and a professor at the Institute for european studies of Paris 8 University, Pascal Boniface.


In addition to eliminating the security fears, the participation of North Korea in the Games of Pyeongchang allows the country to show his “normalcy” stressed the political scientist. “The president of north korea will want to show its own population that it is respected and accepted in the world. “


The next olympic Games, which will kick off on 9 February, will therefore have a flavour that is particularly political with this agreement, Korean, in addition to the exclusion of Russia for doping. Recent history teaches us, however, that it has almost always been thus : the sport in general and olympic Games in particular have been used for political purposes in different ways over the past few decades.


“The sport has become the new battlefield — pacific and regulated — States. It is the most visible to show the flag, to exist in the eyes of others and to be present on the map of the world, ” said Mr. Boniface, in his book, the Geopolitics of the sport, which shows the full extent of the phenomenon.


A symbol of power


It is undoubtedly the most evident manifestation of political power in the sport. Of States, regardless of their size, have used their sporting successes to show themselves stronger than the others.


“Sport is an instrument of power both by the organisation of competitions by the victories in the past,” said professor Boniface in his work, noting that the sport is one of the few areas where the supremacy of a country does not raise the rejection, but admiration.


Russia, for example, has tried to impress the world in 2014 in Sochi, organizing Games more expensive than ever, and ending at the top of the medal table, before the discovery of a system of doping widespread does not make him lose his first place.


Qatar opted for him to untie the drawstrings of his purse to dazzle. First, by buying the legendary soccer club Paris Saint-Germain in 2011, and then being appointed to organize the soccer world Cup 2022. A year ago, the minister of Finance of qatar said without embarrassment that the country would be spending $ 500 million per week until 2021 to build the infrastructure in view of the competition.


To give a existence


“Compete in the world Cup, to participate in the olympic Games, it is to assert its sovereignty, is to demonstrate its existence and its independence in the eyes of the world,” wrote Pascal Boniface.


Thus, in 1912, during the olympic Games in Stockholm, Austria, and Hungary marched in separately, while they still belonged to the same State, Austria-Hungary, which broke out at the end of the First world War.

Photo: Romeo Gacad Archives Agence France-Presse

More recently, Palestine has managed to make its place on the world stage through sport. Its olympic committee was recognized by the international olympic Committee in 1995, and two of his athletes were able to participate in the Atlanta Games the following year. The acceptance of Palestine as non-member observer State of the united Nations have occurred only about twenty years later, in 2012.


Sport to unite


The sport is often managed to unite a divided people, the time of a competition or a big game. This is the case of the Kurds, who have put aside their political demands in 2002 to support the national team of turkey in its conquest of the third place at the world Cup of soccer.


“While globalisation has an effect of solvent on the national identity, sport is an element of regenerating and reconstructing,” says Boniface in the Geopolitics of the sport.


In another book on the same subject, the former journalist of the daily Le Monde Jean-Jacques Bozonnet noted that, since its first presentation in 1903, the Tour de France, one of cycling races, the most prestigious in the world, ” underlies the desire for national unity “, connecting the major cities of the country.


Over the years, the sport has also helped to bring the States to the antipodes, as was the case this week with the two Koreas. India and Pakistan, whose bilateral relations have often been stormy, managed to get closer several times due to cricket matches between the two countries.


In 2013, the United States, Russia and Iran have also set aside their differences to save the fight, this discipline iconic of the olympic Games has failed to be excluded from the program.


Arena of claim


Some of the greatest moments in sport’s history are also prominent episodes of political affirmation. One has only to think of the fists are raised by the american runners Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Games at Mexico city to denounce racial segregation, or the many boycotts the olympics.


In 1980, the United States, for example, have been part of the fifty countries who have turned their backs to the Games in Moscow to protest the soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Four years later, fifteen countries of the soviet bloc, including the soviet union, responded to the Americans by boycotting the Los Angeles Games.


The close link between sport and political claims is as strong as ever in our days. On the 1st of October last, the day of the referendum in Catalonia, the legendary soccer club FC Barcelona has decided to play its match in an empty stadium to express its displeasure to the league which had refused to postpone the meeting.


During the match, the message was clear. On the indicator chart, we could read the word ” democracy “.

Ce text is part of our “Outlook” section.

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