2017 has begun auspiciously for those seeking greater evidence of an awareness and willingness to speak out against persecution, injustice and the treatment of refugees on the part of elite athletes.
The past month have witnessed bold statements from Mo Farah, Britain’s most decorated Olympian, and Michael Bradley, captain of the United States football team, both of whom have been highly critical of the Trump administration’s Executive Order to ban entry to the United States from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
The former Cameroon football international Lauren also entered the fray with some carefully crafted words on refugee issues, whilst two sporting refugees Dejan Lovren (Liverpool and Croatia) and Luol Deng the acclaimed basketball player (who escaped the conflict in South Sudan), have spoken in moving terms about their life experiences. These contributions were particularly well timed following Holocaust Memorial Day, an event which the new United States President chose to largely ignore.
These statements are important not just for the remarks made, but alongside the regular interventions on issues of political and social injustice, environmentalism and human rights by the likes of Serena Williams, Colin Kaepernick and David Pocock, they are introducing issues to their fans with which many be partially, or not at all concerned. For further insight into this issue, the work of Eli Wolf and Dr. Mary Hums is invaluable.
January, however, also witnessed the biennial Africa Cup of Nations hosted by Gabon. Despite the exciting comeback from Cameroon in the final, to secure the trophy, the tournament was played out against the backdrop of popular discontent. The cost of staging the championship was guaranteed by the unpopular government through the introduction of major budgetary cuts in areas most effecting the vulnerable, in an already impoverished economy. This reality was ignored by large elements of the international media, with the coverage of the tournament driven by the interest in performance of players performing in the English Premier League, instead of focusing on the trade-off between sport and politics, notably how politicians use sport to bolster their own ends, particularly their public image.
More significant in terms of the international sporting agenda in the current climate are the concerns over the Los Angeles bid for the 2024 Olympics and the United States bid for the 2026 Football World Cup. These are events that President Trump would dearly wish to endorse, and be strongly associated with, as in his view they would be well received by those who voted for him in 2016. This is despite the antipathy that would be generated within, and beyond the Unites States, due to an inability to understand political, social, humanitarian and economic sensitivities, all of which remain central to any proper understanding of domestic and international sport. Elite athletes will surely be speaking their minds on these matters.