Should sport and politics ever mix?

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1. An unlikely alliance?

The history of modern sport has been littered with high-profile incidents in which politics have played a major part.

While sporting successes can offer politicians good PR and a valuable 'photo op', there are often serious repercussions when the worlds of sport and politics collide.

So is it ever wise for them to mix?

2. Why I didn't boycott 1980 Moscow Olympics

I was criticised for going to Moscow. We faced a lot of pressure to boycott the games, including from the government, but I think we absolutely made the right decision. People said to me 'you went to Moscow but you didn’t go to South Africa', but I saw those as two very different things. We might have all had our thoughts about the regime in Moscow, but I knew the Russian team would be picked on merit.

I chose not to go to South Africa during apartheid because I didn’t feel that I would be competing against the best athletes that were available for selection, as it was a very white sport there. I have Indian heritage on my mother's side so I felt quite strongly about that. If my sport stands for anything it is that we are multicultural.

3. 'Black Power' salute

Two sportsmen who risked their careers, and even had their lives threatened, were US athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos after their 'Black Power' salute at the 200m medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympics. Clearly their action came at a deeply turbulent time in the social and political history of the United States.

The International Olympic Committee has clear views about using the Olympic platform for expressing personal or political beliefs, or the promotion of anything during that competitive period. But I think we have to be realistic about the world, it’s a political world, and I think it is hard sometimes to hermetically seal yourself away in sport.

I know John Carlos and Tommie Smith and how strongly they felt about the world that they were living in in the 1960s. I can understand, why having performed the way they had at an Olympic games, that they felt it was a moment to express a political point of view. It’s for the individual athlete to come to terms with their own instincts, and I have always tended to do that.

4. Following your conscience

While I strongly opposed the government’s call to boycott the Moscow Olympics, throughout my athletics career I generally wasn’t high profile politically. But I knew I wanted to go into politics long before I became an international athlete. Within a few weeks of retiring I’d become a candidate for the 1992 general election and subsequently became an MP.

There are people in sport who have strong political views. It’s probably easier not to express those views or hold office while you’re competing, but I would always encourage anyone in sport who wanted to be involved in politics. I can understand why sportsmen and sportswomen will at times feel compelled to follow their conscience, whether it be for political, religious or family reasons, to take a stand that might endanger their careers.

5. When sport and politics cross paths

In 1967 Kathrine Switzer became the first female to compete in the Boston Marathon, but she had to endure race director Jock Semple attempting to rip off her race number. (AP)

Emily Davison is fatally injured as she tries to stop the King's horse 'Amner' at Epsom on Derby Day in 1913, to draw attention to the Women's Suffragette movement. (Arthur Barrett/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

As the first black heavyweight champion of the world Jack Johnson had to battle against inequality and the white establishment. (BBC)

Adolf Hitler inspecting some of the German athletes who are training for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. (Daily Herald Archive/SSPL/Getty Images)

In a moment full of symbolism Jesse Owens salutes during the long jump medal ceremony at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. (AP Images)

Members of the anti-apartheid demonstration protest against the South African Barbarians tour of Britain prior to the rugby union match between Devon and the SA Barbarians in 1979. (Bob Thomas/Getty Images)

Violence at this 1985 match between Luton Town and Millwall led Luton to introduce an "identity card scheme", which received Government support, in an attempt to curb football hooliganism. (Topfoto)

Politicians on occasion make use of sport to generate good PR. Here John Prescott embarks in a genteel game of beach cricket in Cleethorpes in 1996. (Steve Eason/Getty Images)

Zimbabwean cricketers Andy Flower and Henry Olonga wear black armbands as they risk their lives in protesting "the death of democracy" in Zimbabwe in 2003. (BBC)

Gay rights activists protest against Russian laws around the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. (BBC)

6. A force for good

When Nelson Mandela walked out in the Springbok jersey in the 1995 Rugby World Cup final we saw what a force for good sport can be in helping to unite a nation. It was symbolic of how far South Africa had come from the apartheid era when athletes were not being selected on merit.

But the point I would always make is that sport brings more people together than it ever isolates. So countries that organise large events must recognise that it throws a spotlight on all sorts of things that the public and the international media are interested in once you are staging an event, and that’s actually quite healthy.

In 1980, the British Olympic Association (BOA) took a very independent view and we went to Moscow. The reason I’m chairman of the BOA now is largely out of gratitude to them for defending my right to compete. At the time, people like myself and Colin Moynihan fought tenaciously for the independence of our sport because the risk is if you stick within the parameters of political structures you’re comfortable with, then you’re not going to have a lot of international sport.

I’m sure there were countries that came to London in 2012 that weren’t entirely in line with British or European policy on some things, but that sensibly is set aside. The standard mantra is sport and politics don’t mix – but they do, they are the stuff of life. I have never found taking sport to challenging political environments to be an inhibitor over the long haul of social or political change.