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NFL Kneeling And More: When Sport And Politics Meet

It's not always just about the game.

27/09/2017 16:38

The world of sport collided with the political sphere once again this week when a Donald Trump waded into a row over NFL players kneeling during the US national anthem.

The US president called on the NFL to ban players who would not stand for the anthem and slammed them as “disgraceful”.

The row kicked off when Colin Kaepernick, then playing for the San Francisco 49ers, first sat down during the anthem during preseason in August 2016 in protest against policy brutality and racial injustice.

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Colin Kaepernick #7 and Eric Reid #35 of the San Francisco 49ers kneel on the sideline during the anthem

This season many players have also carried out the demonstration, with an unprecedented showing of support Sunday’s match at London’s Wembley stadium between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Baltimore Ravens. More than 20 players and staff from both sides either knelt or linked arms during the anthem.

Politics has also been on the agenda in the British sporting world with this week’s Fifa decision to lift the ban on teams displaying the poppy on their kit to commemorate Armistice Day.

The football world governing body fined England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for displaying the poppy in 2016, because it was deemed to be a political symbol.

This week alone shows how political sport can get, so we’ve taken a look at a range of times that politics has found itself on the sports field...

More on poppies

Conversely to the Fifa poppy row, which applied to international matches, football players who don’t wear poppies when playing their league games often attract attention and even criticism.

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West Bromwich's James McClean refuses to wear a poppy

He has previously explained his choice in a open letter to West Brom fans, in which he said: “People say that by not wearing a poppy, I’m being disrespectful but they don’t ask why it is that I choose not to wear it.

“If the poppy was simply about World War One and Two victims alone, I would wear it without a problem. I’d wear it every day of the year if that was the thing, but it doesn’t, it stands for all the conflicts that Britain has been involved in.

“Because of the history of where I come from in Derry, I cannot wear something that represents that. I have no issue with people that do wear the poppy. I absolutely respect their right to do that but I would hope that people respect my right to have a different opinion on it too.”

He has also said to wear the poppy would be “a gesture of disrespect for the innocent people who lost their lives in the Troubles – and Bloody Sunday especially”.

Outside the sporting world, others, such as actress Siena Miller, Newsnight presenter Evan Davies and Channel 4 newsreader Jon Snow, have all faced criticism for not wearing poppies, for various reasons.

The ‘Black Power’ salute

Athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos won gold and bronze respectively in the 200m at the Mexico City 1968 games.

Both runners took to the podium without shoes on, wearing black socks instead. Smith also wore a black scarf, while Carlos unzipped his tracksuit top and wore a beaded necklace.

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American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raise their fists on the podium at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City

When The Star-Spangled Banner began to play, both athletes raised a clenched fist in the air, wearing a black glove, and stood with their heads bowed.

Both men, as well as silver medallist Peter Norman, wore Olympic Project for Human Rights badges.

According to the BBC, Smith said he raised his right fist to represent black power in America, while Carlos raised his left to represent black unity. Norman also suggested that the pair shared one set of gloves after Carlos accidentally left his back in the Olympic Village.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is not a fan of political statements, or indeed the promotion of anything, so the US track team faced threats of a ban. Both athletes were expelled from the games and an IOC spokesman described their actions as “a deliberate and violent breach of the fundamental principles of the Olympic spirit”.

Muhammad Ali refuses the draft

Born Cassius Marcellus Clay, the boxing champion converted to Islam aged 22 in 1964 and changed his name to Muhammad Ali.

Ali refused to be drafted into the US Army in 1966, citing his religious beliefs, as well as as the fact he had “no quarrel” with the Vietcong.

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Muhammad Ali refused to be drafted into the US army

He said at the time: “War is against the teachings of the Qur’an. I’m not trying to dodge the draft. We are not supposed to take part in no wars unless declared by Allah or The Messenger. We don’t take part in Christian wars or wars of any unbelievers.”

His draft refusal saw him banned from boxing for three years and sentenced to five years in prison, plus a fine of $10,000, although he never served time behind bars.

South Africa under apartheid

South Africa was hit with many boycotts while it remained under apartheid, including sport.

The country was due to host the Olympic Games in 1964 but had its invitation withdrawn by the IOC when interior minister Jan de Klerk said that their team would not be racially integrated.

South Africa was formally expelled from the IOC in 1970 and was not allowed to re-join the movement until 1990.

Other sports including football, rugby, tennis, cricket and chess were also the subjects of boycotts as well as South African teams being banned from many international competitions and organisation.

Rugby was perhaps the sport most divided by the issue, with controversial tours of South Africa by the likes of the British Lions, England, France and Ireland. The issue also saw the country banned from the first two Rugby World Cups in 1987 and 1991.

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South Africa's president Nelson Mandela congratulates South Africa's rugby team captain François Pienaar after their country's World Cup win in 1995

The Springboks’ jersey was seen by the majority of black South Africans as a symbol of apartheid, representative of the sport of their white oppressors. So when Nelson Mandela appeared at the 1995 World Cup final wearing the shirt, this marked a turning point for South Africans’ relationship with the sport as their president reached across across the divide.

Moscow Olympics boycott

A range of countries boycotted the Moscow 1980 Olympics over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Countries which outright boycotted the event included the US, West Germany, Japan, Norway, Egypt, Canada and Chile.

Others such as Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Switzerland competed but did not take part in the opening ceremony.

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British fans in the crowd with a banner saying 'We're Proud of Great Britain, How About You Thatcher?' in reference to Great Britain's boycott of the Olympic Games

The UK, France and Australia supported the boycott but allowed athletes to choose for themselves whether to participate.

In return, the Soviet Union boycotted the Los Angeles 1984 Olympics.

Jesse Owens shows up the Nazis

In the run-up to the Berlin 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany, pressure mounted for the US to boycott the games.

Jesse Owens was among those who initially expressed trepidation about the games, declaring: “If there are minorities in Germany who are being discriminated against, the United States should withdraw from the 1936 Olympics.”

He did, however, decide to compete in the end.

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Jesse Owens on the podium at the 1936 Olympics, surrounded by people giving Nazi salutes

Owens went on to become the most successful athlete at the games, winning four gold medals in the 100m, 200m, long jump and 4x100m relay.

What Adolf Hitler had hoped to be a show of Aryan supremacy turned out to be deeply embarrassing for him.

But the athlete was also snubbed by his own president, never receiving an invitation to the White House from Franklin D. Roosevelt.

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