Can Political Expression Through Sports Shift Conscience Globally?

The world is changing and so is the domain of sports. When Sakshi Malik quits to show her resistance against the wrong, she relays a message. Even if it doesn't translate as a policy change, it will echo for ages, empowering others not to stay silent.

Aastha Tiwari
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Pro-Palestine invades WC Pitch

Source: AFP

The detention of Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik quitting, and the resignation of Spain’s Soccer Chief Rubiales- all these mega-events in the trajectory of sports reinforce Thomas Mann’s quote, “Everything is Political.”


Ideally, sports and politics would never mingle but the times we live in, even our nothingness are deeply political. Playgrounds and stadiums are championing the societal causes and echoing in the thunders of political expression. From Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the US national anthem at NFL games to protest against racial injustice in 2016 to cricketers and footballers wearing black arm bands to show solidarity and support for a particular cause, it’s become loud and clear that sports refuse to be politically neutral. 

Why Change Requires Hard-Hitting Effort 

When a Palestine supporter invaded the pitch to hug Virat Kohli, it became a piece of breaking news. Every newspaper column had written about how the game halted, Kohli was heckled and the supporter named, Wen Johnson was a habitual offender who was also seen wearing a “Free Ukraine” t-shirt in the past and breaching the security. What they failed to notice was that they had done exactly what was needed - raise awareness. Even if the said person wasn’t a supporter, championing a cause, nevertheless, the cause championed itself. 

In the age of social media, everything, as Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum have theorised, explodes. Optimising and channelising this for the right cause then seems very rational and plausible. So, while disruption and disobedience have become the order of the day, it has been somewhat successful in conveying the message to millions of people. Sports, be it cricket, football, or the Olympics, have massive viewership. For instance, FIFA has claimed that around 1.5 billion people watched the 2022 World Cup final live on television.

wrestlers protest

As far as eyes can travel, one sees blood spilled, houses bombed, kids murdered, women raped, men mutilated, memories undone, voices stifled and humanity strangulated. Even with wars and bombing continuing in one patch of the world, we sit comfortably, unstained by the blood spilled. Scrolling through the reels, watching our favourite show or sports, unbothered. In such an age, using these mediums i.e. reels, sports, and shows to convey a message and gain solidarity for a cause isn’t dumbfounding. Especially, given the outstanding influence they continue to have. If our favourite cricketer or an actor echoes a word, it has a greater chance of becoming something, even if it ends up being a one-time thing. 


There are debates on whether sports should be used as a platform to vocalise societal/political causes with some people demanding dichotomous segregation of the two domains while others encouraging athletic activism. Morality is subjective and there has to be space for all the voices. We can’t fight for justice while being unjust. We can voice ourselves while numbing others. So, while debates are healthy, it's undeniable that sports have become a catalyst for protest, a beacon for political expression. 

Politics And Sports

sakshi malik

Another way to look at this is the other way around - politics influencing sports. Very traumatically evident in the Wrestlers' Protest and the manhandling that followed and the infamous, controversial Spain’s Hermoso World Cup Kiss. Since time immemorial, society has dictated some sections' choices, opportunities, and freedom, marginalising and stigmatizing them. When men play, it’s the World Cup, but when women do, it's the Women’s World Cup. When Md Siraj fields or Md Shami bowls, their identity as a Muslim overpowers their cricketing skills. Race, gender, caste, religion, and other social demographic factors continue to influence sports and that is inherently intertwined with politics. If such expressions are silently succumbed to, comfortably accepted under the garb of “age-old traditions and myths”, why can’t political expression against injustice be accepted under the guise of “modernity”?

Why, as a collective, do we belittle the loud outcries of justice but deafen ourselves in the face of injustice? Is it the discomfort of anonymity given all we have ever known is injustice and victimization? Or, is it simply our privileged, blissful ignorance that allows us to turn blind and deaf to the atrocities committed in the name of the status quo?

Whatever it is, the world is changing and so is the domain of sports. It has refused to remain neutral and shine as a lightning rod for societal activism. When Sakshi Malik quits to show her discomfort and resistance against the wrong, she relays a message. Even if it doesn't translate as a policy change, it will echo for ages, empowering others not to stay silent and use whatever platform they have to fight, agitate, and educate. 

Views expressed are the author's own.

political expression Politics In Sports Protests In Sports