To continue on Jonathan’s theme of sport and politics below, I have been struck by the extent to which the two are increasingly colliding this summer.
This isn’t just about the usual bandwagon-jumping that is part and parcel of modern political communication. Indeed, due to England’s absence from Euro 2008, we have been mercifully spared the sight of our political leaders frantically trying to out-do eachother in their contrived support for ‘the lads’. (Although, should Andy Murray progress any further at Wimbledon, watch them falling over themselves to become associated with his success).
But, from the most serious policy decisions to the most frivolous commentary, politics has in the last few weeks camped out on sport’s territory like an irresistible Spanish midfield overwhelming a bewildered German defence.
First, on sports policy, we have had the hugely significant announcement from the Government that Zimbabwe’s cricket team will not be allowed to tour the UK. This is not a massive geo-political manoeuvre by itself, but a welcome brick in the steadily growing wall of global action against Mugabe’s vile Harare regime. And it is as far from a populist gimmick as sports politics can get.
On a less serious note, we have seen German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s avid support of her national team over the summer. This, apparently, is no electorate-friendly stunt, but the actions of a genuine fan. Chancellor Merkel appears to have spent most of June, when not actually at Germany’s games, frantically texting messages of support and encouragement to her favourite players. Though perhaps a little creepy, this is not the act of a Johnny-come-lately glory seeking politician desperately trying to connect with the electorate.
Finally, today we have the final nail in the coffin for sport’s independence from politicians this summer a comment piece from the new Mayor of London on our nation’s perceived sporting ills. One might think that, due to his own chequered record as a sporting role model (see video), Boris would be a little cautious about opining in this area. But in the Telegraph this morning he launched a œa full-hearted attack on the nannying, mollycoddling¦hopelessness of our times and urged parents to make their children do more sport.
While Boris may well have a point about the need to increase participation in sport, anyone who admired the technical brilliance of Spain, Holland, Russia well, pretty much everyone except Sweden at the Euros, or the wizadry of Federer and Nadal at Wimbledon, will realise that it’s not just about taking part. It’s about ensuring that, as a nation, we are equipped to develop the talent and skills to compete at the highest level. And this is where politics absolutely does have a role to play in supporting sport.
But, as Boris himself has shown, we should keep the politicians as far away from the pitch as possible.