The first time I recall a debate about sport and politics was growing up in the eighties, when South African sporting teams were banned from international competition because of Apartheid.
When rebel Australian players, who presumably believed sport and politics shouldn’t mix, decided to tour South Africa, in a move then prime minister Bob Hawke labelled treacherous.
The rebel team played three ‘tests’ and a series of one day matches against an all-white South African team, in front of all-white crowds, at a time when Nelson Mandela still languished in prison on Robben Island.
The sporting bans played an important role in putting pressure on the South African government of the day, and raising awareness of international opinion among the white South African community. They played a major role in the ultimate defeat of Apartheid and ending minority white rule.
Later, as president, Mandela understood the power of sport to bring people together, with his presentation of the rugby union world cup trophy to victorious Afrikaner captain Francois Pienaar in 1995 a symbol of national unity and hope in the early post-Apartheid era.
Given the depth at which it is engrained in our culture, sport has the potential to influence and affect incredible social change. For the record, the rebel Australian side lost their ‘test’ series 1-0 and got trounced in the one-day series, 4-2.