The rescheduled Tokyo Olympics are due to start in exactly one year come Wednesday – but what kind of Olympics will they be?The politically-neutral, k
The rescheduled Tokyo Olympics are due to start in exactly one year come Wednesday – but what kind of Olympics will they be?
The politically-neutral, keep-your-views-to-yourself, get-on-with-the-Games type Olympics that were foreshadowed seven months ago, or the take-a-knee, politically correct, We-Race-As-One type event that has become prevalent in the post-George Floyd era?
Or, put another way, Woke Olympics or Bloke Olympics?
The rescheduled Tokyo Olympics are due to start in exactly one year come Wednesday
Prime minister Shinzo Abe says it will be ‘impossible’ to go ahead if the virus isn’t contained
Pictured: An aerial view of New National Stadium for the Olympic Summer Games in 2021
Since the death of George Floyd in May, instances of athletes and major sporting organisations putting their weight behind political causes have become commonplace and, according to a recently released survey, the majority of Australian football fans don’t like it.
In recent months the AFL, rugby league, rugby union, soccer and Formula 1 have all shown support for political issues and, as other major sports such as the NBA and NFL re-emerge from the Coronavirus lockdown, they are expected to follow suit.
The one holdout is the International Olympic Committee but exactly 12 months out from a hoped-for Opening Ceremony in Tokyo, they too are showing signs of wavering.
In January, the IOC released its guidelines for Tokyo, banning any of the social awareness-type demonstrations that have become prevalent at sporting events since the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement.
‘It is a fundamental principle that sport is neutral and must be separate from political, religious or any other type of interference,’ the IOC document said.
‘The focus for the field of play and related ceremonies must be on celebrating athletes’ performance.’
To which, according to the Melbourne-based Institute of Public Affairs, the majority of Australian footie fans would raise a beer and say, ‘Hear, hear.’
An organisation that describes itself as an ‘independent, non-profit public policy think-tank dedicated to preserving and strengthening the foundations of economic and political freedom’, the IPA last week released the results of a survey that showed the majority of Australian footy fans have had enough of their sport being hijacked by political causes.
The survey asked 1011 Australians aged between 18 and over-65 whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement, ‘Sporting codes like the AFL and NRL have become too politically correct’.
A study from the Institute of Public Affairs revealed that Australians now think sport has become ‘too politically correct’. Pictured: Nic Naitanui of the West Coast Eagles (right) takes a knee alongside Gold Coast Suns’ players in support of the Black Lives Matter movement
The results showed that 51 percent agreed and only 17 percent disagreed. The rest neither agreed nor disagreed.
While the survey was conducted in December 2019 – five months before the death of George Floyd inspired the rise of Black Lives Matter – it followed a steady increase in the involvement of Australian football codes in political causes.
In 2014 the AFL placed an R symbol on the centre of every ground in support of the Recognition campaign to have Indigenous Australians recognised in the constitution.
The 2017 NRL grand final was marred by controversy when US rapper Macklemore was invited to sing his gay anthem ‘One Love’ at the height of the country’s same-sex marriage referendum, with the-then Prime Minister Tony Abbott being one of many ‘old white dudes’ (as Macklemore dubbed them) who called unsuccessfully for the song to be banned.
And last year Rugby Australia was almost sent bankrupt after being ordered to pay a reported $4 million in compensation after sacking Wallabies star Israel Folau for making anti-gay statements on his personal social media accounts.
Macklemore (pictured) performs before the NRL grand final between the Melbourne Storm and the North Queensland Cowboys at ANZ Stadium in Sydney in 2017
Wallabies players Israel Folau (middle row centre) and Taniela Tupou (middle row second right) are seen with team mates during the team photograph before the team captains run at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, Friday, September 7, 2018
Last year Rugby Australia was almost sent bankrupt after being ordered to pay a reported $4 million in compensation after sacking Wallabies star Israel Folau for making anti-gay statements on his personal social media accounts
All of which has combined to frustrate and anger fans who are tired of athletes and organisations using sport as a platform to make political statements, says Morgan Begg, a research fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs.
‘Australians have had a gutful of their favourite past-times being dominated by the narrow obsessions of Australia’s sporting elite,’ he said following the release of the survey results.
‘Australians watch the footy to watch footy, not to get woke sermons about what political or moral views they should hold.
‘This poll reveals the divisions between the corporate elite who control organisations like the AFL, and the community which is expected to accept the AFL’s posturing as an additional price of being members or fans of footy clubs.
‘The AFL spent millions supporting the ‘Recognise’ campaign which supported the divisive proposal to divide Australians by race in the constitution, only to have it rejected by Indigenous Australians. Rugby Australia alienated their own fans by persecuting Israel Folau for his religious beliefs.
‘Footy is an escape from politics. Fans shouldn’t have politically correct virtue signalling thrown in their face.’
It is a view that will attract plenty of support – US President Donald Trump has vowed not to watch the NFL if players ‘take a knee’ when the sport resumes after the Coronavirus disruption, and Max Verstappen and five other Formula 1 drivers who chose to remain standing before the first race of the season this month were largely applauded.
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain takes a knee beside drivers prior the the Hungarian Formula One Grand Prix race at the Hungaroring racetrack in Mogyorod on July 19
Lewis Hamilton later criticised Formula 1 for a ‘rushed’ pre-race anti-racism display after several other drivers did not take a knee
Explaining his reasons for not dropping to one knee along with protest organiser Lewis Hamilton and 13 other drivers, Verstappen said, ‘I am very committed to equality and the fight against racism, but I believe everyone has the right to express himself at a time and in a way that suits them,’ he wrote.
‘I will not take the knee today but respect and support the personal choices every driver makes.’
He and his fellow holdouts received plenty of public support online, but it appears they could be fighting a losing battle.
Sporting organisations aligning themselves to high-profile social issues is smart business, with major sponsors keen to be seen as good corporate citizens.
Bubba Wallace, 26, was overwhelmed with the support he received from his fellow NASCAR drivers in his native Alabama
In recent weeks when Daniel Snyder, owner of NFL team the Washington Redskins refused to change its nickname despite claims that it was offensive to native Americans, major sponsors threatened to walk and Amazon, Nike, Walmart, Target and Dick’s Sporting Goods refused to sell its merchandise. The name was changed last week.
Less overt – and denied by both parties – was the rumoured influence that major sponsor Qantas had on Rugby Australia’s costly decision to tear up Israel Folau’s contract.
But even if, as he claimed, Qantas boss Alan Joyce did not actively pressure since-sacked Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle to dismiss Folau, his views were well known following his very public support of the Yes vote during the marriage equality debate.
There is great irony in the fact that one of the last major sporting organisations to maintain a ban on its athletes making political statements during competition is the IOC, given that the issue first came to light when US sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos (supported by Australian silver medallist Peter Norman) gave Black Power salutes on the podium at the 1968 Olympics.
USA team mates Tommie Smith (centre) and John Carlos (right) give the ‘Black Power’ salute next to Peter Norman (left) of Australia who won the silver medal at the Mexico city Olympics in 1968
The guidelines released by IOC in January specifically forbade athletes from making any kind of ‘political, religious or racial’ protest or demonstration in Tokyo but, of course, that was before the death of George Floyd and the postponement of the Games until next year.
By last month Olympics boss Thomas Bach was already showing signs of softening his attitude, saying the athletes should find a way to demonstrate in a ‘dignified manner.’
It will be interesting to see how the IOC – and its $1.8 billion worth of sponsors including Coke, Samsung, Toyota and Visa – will define ‘dignified’ by the time the Opening Ceremony comes around.
Last month Olympics boss Thomas Bach was already showing signs of softening his attitude to political gestures, saying the athletes should find a way to demonstrate in a ‘dignified manner’