Politics and sport don’t mix. A sentence often uttered. A sentence lacking in knowledge, history and insight. A sentence completely wrong.
Ever since most modern sports started to become codified and regulated during the latter part of the 19th century, they have been closely interlinked with the politics, the social attitudes and the cultural norms of its day. Sport has never been separate from society. Instead, it is often the purest reflection we have of it.
The history of politics and sport is often overt; the 1936 summer and winter Olympics in Germany as an attempted propaganda vehicle for the Nazi regime, the boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics by the USA and other allies in protest to Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. It can be used as vehicle for change; the sporting boycott of the South African apartheid regime was one of the most effective ones as it impacted the most on the white middle classes propping up the regime.
Other times the politicisation of sport is a lot subtler, often hidden in plain sight. One example is the amateur ethos of ‘sport for sport’s sake’. So often admired as a virtuous ideal, it is nothing but a sham. With leisure time a rarity in late and early 20th century, amateurism was a clever way of trying to ensure that those who had the wealth and background to ‘buy’ time to become good at their sport; the upper classes, public school boys (it was almost always boys) and undergraduates were at a massive advantage. The introduction of professionalism allowed the working classes to become an integral part of sport, something the leading forces in many sporting organisations, especially the IOC, sought to prevent for most of the 20th century.
Football itself is intertwined with politics in so many different ways; from the political and cultural context clubs sprung from (Celtic F.C. being a perfect example), the perceived political allegiance of a club’s fan base, the differential treatment by police and politicians towards football supporters compared to other sports and the enforcement of societal norms by its governing bodies; what is the English F.A. shameful 50 yearlong ban on organised women’s football from 1921 if not political?
Closer to home, the Glasgow football scene – and the media covering it – is often all too eager to classify as ‘sectarian’ what is often blatant politician statements and affiliations. Labelling it ‘sectarian’ and always attributing equal shame on all parts is a cowardly approach by journalists who should have the instincts and willingness to reflect more on both the historic and ever-changing political climate that drive much of the iconography, ideals and values of so many of the city’s football supporters.
In this issue of The Supplement we’ll look more closely at politics in football. Political activist Liam McLaughlan gives a passionate defence of why politics on the terraces is fundamental to Celtic’s identity. Daniel McGowan explores how it is UEFA’s desire for a sanitised game suitable for global corporate sponsors that drives the stifling of freedom of expression in football. Eoin Coyne chronicles how football’s relationship with politics have changed dramatically over the last decades and how it now affects the younger fans specifically. We also have a piece from an anonymous writer on what it is like to be both a supporter of Rangers and Scottish independence. In addition, we have the usual array of articles covering both Celtic and international football.
Finally, a word on Celtic and the Green Brigade. It’s absolutely fine to disagree with GB’s political standpoints, their banners and their statements. Celtic should be a club that don’t discriminate in terms of religious or political affiliations. But that does not equate to saying that Celtic should only be ‘about the football’, and that the most important thing about the club is to win trophies and games. It wasn’t at the foundation of club, and it shouldn’t be now. Celtic Football Club should not be sanitised in terms of politics, instead it should be a driving force for social improvement and change, it should be rebellious and it should push the limits of establishment acceptability.
The Celtic F.C. board, representing the shareholders of a publicly listed company, cannot be that force. Instead, the Green Brigade is currently the most obvious keeper of this Celtic tradition. They should be applauded for it and other fans should be grateful they are there. The Green Brigade don’t represent the whole of the club and its fans, but they represent an integral and crucial part of it. Politics, football and Celtic do mix, and should mix.