‘Sporting spirit’ — the term implies playing on the front foot and a complete lack of anything political. However, three banners recently flying over Leeds while World Cup cricket matches were in progress, demanding, “Help end mob lynching in India”, “Justice for Balochistan” and “India stop genocide and free Kashmir”, have put politics on the centrestage of sports again. However, this is not the first time as there are precedents dating to as far back as the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
Black Lives Matter
In the 49ers third pre-season game of the 2016 season, Colin Kaepernick was noticed sitting down during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as opposed to the tradition of standing. He explained his position stating, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder,” referencing a series of African-American deaths caused by law enforcement. He added that he would continue to protest until he felt like "the American flag represents what it's supposed to.”
John Carlos and Tommie Smith
During a medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, two African-American track athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, stood on the podium for the National Anthem after winning gold and bronze medals and raised their black-gloved fists to the sky, widely viewed as a black power salute. It became one of the most famous political protests in the history of sports.
Joe Louis vs Max Schmeling
A lesser known incident at the same Olympics refers to two separate fights between Louis, a coloured sportsperson from USA and Schmeling, a German. While both won one match each, the two fights embodied the broader political and social conflict of the times. With Louis being a focal point for African American pride in the 1930s, the contest between representatives of the United States and Nazi Germany also came to symbolise the struggle between democracy and Nazism.
During the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Palestinian terrorist group Black September took 11 Israeli Olympic team members hostage, demanding that 234 Palestinian prisoners jailed in Israel and the West German-held founders of the Red Army Faction, Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof, be released. Tragically, the athletes and one German police officer were killed as were five of the eight Black September members.
LeBron James, a member of the Miami Heat, tweeted a picture of his team’s players wearing hoodies, with their heads bowed in support of Trayvon Martin, a teenager who was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, in February 2012.
Jesse Owens and Luz Long
Coloured athlete Jesse Owens came along at a time when Hitler was talking of Nazi supremacy and the Master Race. Owens dominated the 1936 Olympics in Munich with four gold medals (100 and 200-meter dashes, long jump, 4X100-meter relay). Interestingly, he won the last medal due to a tip from fellow German competitor, Luz Long after he almost failed to qualify for the Games. And yes, after Owens won, the Fuehrer refused to shake hands with him.
Mohammad Ali and the Vietnam War
On March 9, 1966, at the height of the Vietnam war, Mohammad Ali’s draft status was revised to make him eligible to fight in Vietnam. However, he refused and said that as a black Muslim, he was a conscientious objector, and would not enter the U.S. military. In a statement that cost him dearly within the arena, he said, “My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn't put no dogs on me, they didn't rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father…Shoot them for what? How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail.”