Friday, April 16, 2021
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Home World Activism in Professional Sports: Political Protest Folklore

Activism in Professional Sports: Political Protest Folklore


Professional sport becomes a stage for social criticism. The associations are now organizing the protests themselves. One can find that absurd.

Correctly protesting: England and San Marino players before kick-off Photo: PA images / imago

Professional sport is still in protest mode. People are kneeling diligently, and more and more political messages can be found on sports textiles that are carried into the arenas by professionals. The angry protests of individual athletes have long since become a kind of rite. It is the associations themselves who put the messages on their athletes’ underwear.

After the football associations of Norway and Germany, Danish and Belgian national players have now been sent to the stadium with appeals for human rights on their warm-up T-shirts. It seems as if organized professional football wants to be one of the good guys. Of course, it’s not that easy when the associations that carry human rights slogans on the field are trying to qualify for a World Cup in Qatar, of all places.

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In the USA, the now almost institutionalized protest that came into professional sport through football star Colin Kaepernick is currently being taken to extremes. While Kaepernick was punished with a place in the athletic offside for daring to point to racism in US society by kneeling during the national anthem, the basketball league NBA has developed into a true “Black Lives Matter” show.

This is a serious issue and it is sure to be taken seriously by the players too. However, the protest is orchestrated by the league, which has determined the choice of messages with which the players appear. “Black Lives Matter”; “I can’t breathe”; “Justice”; “Peace” or “Equality” are inscriptions with which the slogans of the protest movement against racism and racist police violence are carried into the arenas.

The allowed fist

Olympic sport in the USA now also has an official protest permit. The US Olympic and Paralympic Committee has published guidelines that allow participants in Olympic qualifications to determine which forms of protest are permitted. You can protest against racism and social injustice on your hat, for example. Kneeling is allowed, as is showing a clenched fist. Organized protest has become a part of sports culture.

No wonder that the women of the US national soccer team have decided to stand again when the national anthem is played. Full-back Crystal Dunn asked the question: “Should I kneel down for another 30 years?” She says that people really have to do something about racism now and not just join in to participate in a trend.

There are, however, players in the world of professional football for whom it is anything but cheap to take part in one of the protests that have become common practice. The Russian referee Kirill Lewnikow got a little shitstorm in his home country because he and the players went down on his knees before the England game against San Marino. His colleague Sergei Karassjow, on the other hand, was celebrated because he recently refused to kneel in Manchester City’s Champions League game against Mönchengladbach.

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