The Chinese have a saying that it's a curse to live in interesting times, and this is certainly a turbulent period in Western politics. In the US division has never been so deep, and this has even bled into sports. But as history teaches us, there have been even more stark examples, both good and bad, of politics and sports becoming entangled.
Even the politically disinclined can't help but notice that in the United States the political divisions between reds and blues, Republicans and Democrats, have become supercharged in recent years. So it's hardly surprising that there is such an increase of politics in sports. There's always a dividing line between differing parties, of course, otherwise they'd merge, and it's a necessary and good part of democracy for voters to have genuinely alternative choices, but when political opponents are not seen as adversaries but as enemies, things have gone too far.
In some other political systems the opening up of this gulf between the two parties would provide the space for a third party to arise. But the two party nature of the US arrangement makes this very difficult (although not impossible, four early presidents were Whigs). Why has the divide grown so bad?
The beating heart of democracy is that reasonable people can hear the same arguments, see the same evidence, but reach differing, yet valid, conclusions. For instance, we all want the best no deposit casino bonuses, but some folks might like free spins over cash. To elect is to choose between different propositions. It's a judgement call. But for many people, not only in America but elsewhere in the world, the way one votes is now seen as being about morality. And that means someone who agrees with you is virtuous, and those who disagree are sinful. It also destroys the desire to debate and persuade people because individuals (often in social media silos whereby they agree with one another and are rarely confronted with alternative ideas, which are readily blocked in any case) consider entertaining the possibility that they themselves are wrong, necessary to take a different view seriously, as being practically heretical. Calmer rhetoric, more respect for one's opponents, and a realization that a differing opinion isn't a sign of evil, stupidity, or selfishness would be a step in the right direction.
Red and blue are popular choices for the leading political parties of many countries, but they're also very commonplace when it comes to sports. Perhaps especially sports rivalries. To use the English Premier League as an example, there are multiple cities that field more than one team, and these are often split into reds and blues (the classic example being Manchester United - one of the teams with the drunkest fans - and their neighbours Manchester City). This local rivalry naturally leads to bitter competition and the sweetest of victories. It's notable that Leeds, the largest city in England to have only one team, has a football club that plays in white.
In the US there are also plenty of red-blue rivalries due to the popularity of the colors (Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Football Team (formerly Redskins) of the NFL being a prime example). It's pretty obvious why red and blue are so commonplace, being easily distinguished from one another and crystal clear on the green grass of a pitch or field, as well as being totally different to the gear the match officials wear. However, the good news is these colors rarely indicate a team's political reviews - though as we'll see below it's usually pretty divided which is why many believe it's importany for the two elements to be spearate.
There are two broad views on sports and politics as we'll often see from polls at the best interational online casinos to bet at. One is that watching and betting on sports are there to entertain people as a form of escapism and that politics should have no role in it. The other is that it's fine for sportsmen and sports to be involved in expressing political views (although this does bring the potential downside of antagonizing part of the audience who do not share said views).
Let's get back to the topic at hand. Namely, according to a Pew Research Center survey a majority of Americans have said it's perfectly fine for athletes to express political views (62% supporting and 35% opposing). Ironically, yet fittingly, there is a major divide on this subject depending on political affiliation, with Democrats being 80% in favor (52% very, 28% somewhat) and 17% opposed, while Republicans are 58% opposed (31% very, and 27% somewhat). This is likely down to the fact that much recent discourse has been critical of Republican President Donald Trump. It would be intriguing to see the stats should athletes start criticizing a Democrat leader.
Given the rising political discourse within US sports in particular (but elsewhere too with English footballers and F1 drivers taking a knee before matches/races) it's reassuring that only 22% of US adults consider it important athletes share their views with 52% saying it doesn't matter.
However controversial some might consider taking a knee (or supporting Donald Trump), and however earnest the rivalry between reds and blues, the most hard fought sporting contest is not between red and blue. It's between the two teams of the Old Firm: Rangers and Celtic of the Scottish Premiership, two teams that first met way back on 28 May 1888 - since then it's one of the most exciting sports rivalries of all time.
While Rangers do play in blue at home, Celtic have a more distinctive strip of white and green stripes, or two shades of green away. Both are based in Glasgow, and take intra-city rivalry to sometimes dangerous heights. Both have dominated the Scottish football scene for years beyond counting, and the tribal loyalty of supporters has, sadly, seen bloodshed and lives lost over the decades. This is because the clubs aren't just standard sporting rivals but also represent a sectarian divide of Catholics and Protestants, with supporters sometimes even holding pro-paramilitary banners for the IRA or UVF. If nothing else, Celtic and Rangers show that while heartfelt support for a team is no bad thing, it's always possible to go too far. And if sporting loyalty is making you consider supporting terrorists, then just step back and cool off.
Between arguments over whether taking the knee during the US national anthem highlights an important message of racial equality or is disrespectful (and whether BLM is a good or bad thing), it's easy to forget there have been dramatically starker political influences in the sporting world in the past. The Nazis are so hackneyed as the epitome of evil that people sometimes overlook just how abhorrent they were. But that didn't stop the Summer Olympics being hosted by the Third Reich when they visited Berlin in 1936.
In the early days of evolution becoming known many people had misguided views, seeing not only different skin colors but even different European nations as being substantially different on a genetic level. This reached its barbaric zenith under the Nazis, who held a belief in Aryan supremacy and considered other races to be Untermensch (inferior people). Keen observers may have noticed this view isn't exactly endorsed by science, common sense, or the 100m results for the last several decades. The Nazis salutes thrown up at the podium in 1936 look horrendous today, but there is a startling juxtaposition in a photograph of Jesse Owens taken as he received his gold medal for winning the long jump (he also won the 100m, 200m, and 4 x 100m relay for good measure). A black American wasn't exactly the stereotype of Aryan supremacy at the Olympics held just three years before the Third Reich plunged everyone into the Second World War.
Instead of a Nazi salute, Owens threw a military style salute. But there's an odd degree of uncertainty as to whether Hitler snubbed him on racial grounds. The German leader had only shaken the hands of German winners, (so one might argue it was a surprisingly equal opportunities snub), but when an Olympics Committee member said the Chancellor had to greet every winner or none, Hitler opted for none. Speaking of the Chancellor having to leave early, Owens said that the German leader waved at him, and he waved back.
Perhaps the saddest and most embarrassing moment of politics in sport in this example is remembering the US was still far from an equal society. Owens said: "Hitler didn't snub me; it was our president who snubbed me. The president didn't even send me a telegram."
Sport is full of astounding comebacks, incredible successes, and fantastic rivalries. But there are few sporting moments as perfect as the sporting and political confluence that was the South African triumph in the immediate post-Apartheid 1995 Rugby World Cup.
Apartheid had seen the institutional division in South Africa by race, and the dominance of the white minority. Although international pressure had existed for a long time, and there was a demand within the nation itself for change, it was decades in the making. Decades during which Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. But, at long last, he was released and led the ANC to contest the 1994 election. His presidential victory was the clearest symbol possible that the era of Apartheid was over, with former president FW de Klerk acting as one of his two deputies (for obvious reasons the ANC had no experience of governance). Just a year later, South Africa welcomed teams from across the globe to the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
Mandela's goal as president was reconciliation and moving forward in a unified way, allowing the formerly discriminated against black populace to enjoy their freedom while reassuring the white citizens that they had no cause for fear (other nations in Africa had seen significant white flight which caused social and economic damage). The Springboks, South Africa's rugby team, had typically been seen in a less than fond way by the black population but Mandela urged everyone to unite and support the side, famously donning a rugby shirt himself. South Africa had only been allowed back into the sport in 1992, during negotiations to end Apartheid.
South Africa were undefeated on their path to the final, beating Australia in the pool stage, then Western Samoa and France at the knockout stages to reach the final. There they faced the fearsome All Blacks of New Zealand, who were widely fancied to win. By reaching the final alone the Springboks had lifted the nation, and Mandela's embracing of the sport had helped reassure the white populace and close the divide that lingered after Apartheid. But there was a sting in the tail.
Contrary to expectations, the Springboks actually managed to defeat the All Blacks by 15 points to 12, thanks to a last minute drop goal in extra time. The Rainbow Nation saw its black president present the golden Webb Ellis Cup to the country's white rugby captain, and it was a rare perfect moment of political and sporting joy.
Red and blue are just colors, but when it comes to both politics and sports they can mean an awful lot more. From political polarization on both sides of the Pond to healing the divisions of Apartheid, sports and politics can often collide.