You got your politics in my sports-!

I’m totally dating myself, since the Mars company hasn’t used that tagline for their candy in many, many years (as the wardrobes of the actors will instantly verify.) But that’s fine, because what I’m going to talk about is something that goes back well before that advertising and, really, all the way back to the origins of organized sport in the Western world. Of course, everyone thinks that their narrow view of time and society is what defines the norm. “This is the way we’ve always done it!”, they say. But that’s almost never true. It’s just something that what are often the loudest voices are comfortable with and, therefore, they think everyone else should be comfortable with it, too.

The Queen of England died on Thursday at the age of 96, having spent 70 of those years on the throne. As a consequence, much of “proper” England is observing the enforced grief and pageantry that accompanies the death of a monarch, even if said monarch was nothing but a picturesque reminder of an age long past and one that doesn’t exactly engender positive feelings from much of the rest of the world. The Premier League authorities, glacier-encased mastodons that they are, decided to suspend this weekend’s matches and may suspend next weekend’s, as well, given the enforced mourning period that all of the “proper” sources have attached to this largely irrelevant event. Other sports, like rugby union, made some attempt to just do a public remembrance and continue their matches but were eventually pushed down by pressure from the top.

The suspected reasoning to the PL’s rather short-sighted decision to interrupt the already-packed schedule was that some fanbases (see: Liverpool) would take advantage of the moment to point out their continued disdain for the British government, in general, and the monarchy in specific during what was supposed to be an expression of respect for what some still consider to be an historic event. This is where many would argue that, if only people weren’t so intent on injecting “politics” into sports, things would go better for everyone. Despite disrupting the schedule and causing enormous problems for clubs, the league, everyone whose income is derived from matches proceeding as normal and, most notably, the fans in the name of an inherently political act (obeisance to a largely idle and disinterested family of billionaires), what the league was mostly concerned about was the wrong kind of politics- those of resistance to the status quo -being on display during a time when everyone is expected to play the role of caricatures of English tradition.

And that’s pretty much what all of this is about at base level. Those who run the system want everyone to continue to perform the expected acts that maintain the system. It’s no different in any other nation around the world. There’s just a spotlight on this one because of the absurd notion that the royal family and the monarch serve any purpose whatsoever to the function of the English and British states, aside from a symbol of an old order that ensures that the “right people” are the ones still in charge. That’s all the queen was. That’s all her son will be. A symbol. Not a very good one to anyone outside the hidebound traditions of England and, given the current economic crisis gripping the state, not a particularly helpful one when it comes to the idea of the state serving the people that it governs. The hypocrisy of the state spending massive amounts of public wealth to conduct a remembrance for an already absurdly wealthy person is in plain view, but it would be “politics” to point that out when, again, it’s already an overtly political statement to have disrupted the schedule of the games and the lives of players, coaches, associated pub owners, and supporters in the first place.

Let’s think about a contrary example: When John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, there was some question about how life in the US should proceed for the next few days. In the sporting world, most notably, it was questioned as to whether the NFL games for the coming weekend should be suspended out of respect and so that everyone would be paying attention to the funeral proceedings, rather than the pigskin. NFL commissioner, Pete Rozelle, decided to go ahead with the games on the stated basis that it would give a shocked nation something to distract themselves with during a time of national crisis. (In contrast, the rival AFL and most major college programs did not play.) Of course, Rozelle also understood that a distinct portion of the typical NFL fanbase were not fans of Kennedy and so, in that sense, he was merely playing to his audience. He understood at its root that sports, like any kind of mass public activity, has a political underpinning and he chose the path that served the interests of not only his organization, but also that of its fans. The British government has instead done the complete opposite in the name of avoiding the unavoidable political issues at hand.

Organized sport has always been suffused with politics. Always. One can easily look back to the Eastern Roman Empire and the factions surrounding the Blues and the Greens, which were chariot teams, but which came to represent genuine factions within the government and the body politic, as one side represented the commoners and new perspectives on the state religion, while the other represented the upper classes and sticking to the way things had always been. (Sound familiar?) Gather a bunch of people together around an organized event and politics will always be present because politics are about life. Of course, I’m sitting here talking about all of this largely to a bunch of Liverpool fans who should already be quite conscious of the role that the club plays in the political outlook of the city of Liverpool who, as noted, were the likely target of the poor decision by the PL in the first place. The very idea of football as the “national game” is a political stance and not having said game “disrupted” by those voicing disdain for the dead lady is also a political decision.

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One of the loudest opinions by the more traditional set of football fans is about how everything would be better if those of us with a different opinion would just let things go along as they are and not try to make the game we all love about more than just putting a ball in the back of the net. This is the argument they often use about racism in the game, in that it’s essentially already here and you can’t force the racists to change so all of those non-White people involved in it should just go along to get along. Sounds great, as long as you’re not one of those non-White people who suffer the effects of just “going along” with the racists. These are also frequently the people who will gladly observe mass political demonstrations within the game, like Remembrance Day, because it’s an expression of approval for the current social order and, thus, largely doesn’t affect their interests or may actually promote them. They’re typically the ones saying that the game has always done something to remember the dead of a war that’s now more than a century in the past and which has little relevance to the lives of those living in England or anywhere else. This, of course, is wrong since the wearing of the infamous poppies started in 2012. It hasn’t “always been this way.” It’s a quite modern phenomenon of enforced social obeisance to a pointless ceremony that hearkens to how good things must have been in those good, old days.

The idea that said ceremony has been around forever when it is, in fact, quite new is one of those mild demonstrations of my favorite George Orwell quote: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” The idea is that tradition will compel people to keep doing things (like tolerating a useless monarch) and that traditions will often be dictated (or created out of whole cloth) by those who control the public conversation. No Liverpool fan should be oblivious to how our club has been impacted by said public conversation in the past, as the most tragic event in our history was created by the popular (and political) perception of Reds fans and football fans, in general, as a menace to decent society when, in fact, the tragedy was created by the casual disregard and then overt deception of the state apparatus.

The one irrefutable point in all of this, regardless of your perspective on the queen or respect for the dead or where various activities rank in the strata of a functioning society is that sports are inherently political because sports are about life and politics, too, are about life. Both of them are about how we associate with each other and create a culture and a system that operates, to one degree or another, to the advancement of the public weal. This is why those opposed to “politics in sports” are usually the ones who are either already sitting atop those strata or are content with their place in it because at least it’s higher than those other people. The attachment to a governmental figurehead is about that political decision to keep things as they’ve always been. As noted, she was a symbol and, to paraphrase one of the greatest comedians of all time, I leave the genuflecting to symbols to the symbol-minded. It’s just not something I’m interested in because it neither serves a purpose nor advances the idea of a society that serves the interests of the majority, rather than an entitled few. The games should have gone ahead. All the PL did by delaying them was cause problems for itself and everyone associated with the game and their hopes of defusing any public demonstration will be utterly dashed by the determination of those to make a statement having been reinforced by having to sit idle for two weeks. In other words, as soon as the games start again and everyone goes through the perfunctory ritual of remembering the queen, the voices of scorn will be even louder because one useless exercise was performed to try to keep people from speaking out during another useless exercise. In true PL fashion, this has all been a colossal waste of time.

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