OPINIONS Commentary: Don't let politics bog down sportsmanship of World Cup


Commentary: Don't let politics bog down sportsmanship of World Cup

By Ryan Yaoran Yu | People's Daily app

11:03, June 26, 2018


With the start of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin voiced his hope for the tournament by saying “Love for football unites the entire world in one team, regardless of people’s language or ideology.” While his idea of uniting the world through a sport is optimistic, the fact is that the World Cup’s message of sportsmanship is often bogged down by politics.

The World Cup draws hundreds of millions of viewers, making it one of the most influential events in the world. While most treat the event as a chance to root for their favorite teams and drink beer, others, such as athletes and politicians, treat the World Cup as a soapbox to share their political views to a global audience.

Politics in major sport events can do amazing things – such as the time when North and South Korea marched under a united flag during the 2018 Winter Olympics opening ceremony in PyeongChang. The image of friendly Korean relations touched millions and was a rich moment for everyone around the world. 

On the other hand, politics showcased a dark side during this year's World Cup in Russia.

On June 23, the Swiss players Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri both made hand gestures signifying a double-eagle after scoring in a 2-1 victory against Serbia. The gesture is a nationalist sign that was lost on most people in the audience. In Serbia, however, the gesture was viewed as a provocation.

Even the opening ceremony of this year's World Cup was not free from scandal.

British pop star Robbie Williams caused a stir while performing at the World Cup opening ceremony on June 15, when he stuck up his middle finger at the camera. The British singer later explained that his divisive gesture was meant to signal a "one minute to kick-off" but many were not convinced by his explanation. Some speculated that this act was meant to embarrass Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had attended the ceremony.

Williams is no stranger to controversy – his 2016 track "Party Like a Russian" sparked anger in Russia for appearing to belittle Russian politicians. He is also known to be a supporter for LGBT rights and is believed to hold a critical point of view towards Russia’s conservative measures on gay rights advocates.

However, sports is sports while politics is politics.  The spirit of sports require mutual understanding, friendship, honesty and fair play. In most cases, politics cannot live up to it. 

Although depoliticizing the World Cup has a long way to go, it is by no means an empty slogan. 

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