Opinion, Sports

Opinion: The slippery slope of sportwashing and politicizing sport

The sanctity of sport is currently facing two very real threats

It’s not P.E.D.s. And it’s certainly not college athletes getting paid. 

No, the issues that threaten to crumble the foundation aren’t even really seen on the field, but instead are a part of the geo-political stadium — sportwashing and politicizing. Two issues that take the purity of sport, and try to manipulate it for other means. 

Sportwashing as a term may be new, but the practice itself is not. Sportwashing is an attempt to use sports to repair a damaged reputation. It has most recently popped into the mainstream with the LIV Golf Tour, an alternate to the established PGA Tour that is backed by the sovereign wealth of the Saudi Arabian government. 

Just weeks ago, the tour came to Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in North Plains, and was met with protest and outrage. Some club members canceled their memberships, but reportedly three times as many signed up to join when news of the LIV Tour coming broke. 

Many look at the creation of the LIV Tour as a PR stunt. An attempt for the Saudi government to shift the global conversation concerning them. To have people focus on golf rather than human rights violations. 

It’s a similar situation in Qatar as the preparation for the World Cup in November continues — allegedly with the use of slave labor. But once the tournament starts, more than 3 billion people will have their eyes on Qatar and the spectacle of the World Cup and for many all that will matter is the sport. 

Meanwhile, at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, this year’s Wimbledon was missing a few faces after the decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players. 

Sport is supposed to be pure. An athletic competition where outside issues and drama can be forgotten, even if for just a couple of hours. But when sport is used as a tool to further these issues, to skew the public opinion or to make a public showing of punishment, the purity is lost. 

It’s not just a geopolitical issue, either. Individuals make the attempts all the time. Depending on when he’s allowed to get on an NFL field, you can be sure that a successful season from Deshaun Watson will be used to try and shift the talk away from the dozens of sexual misconduct accusations and lawsuits surrounding him.

But what’s the solution? 

The issues will never truly go away, sport is too big of a platform to not have public issues leak in. However, it is on us as the audience to be able to separate the issues at hand, and not allow the world’s problems to taint sport.