No normal sport in an abnormal society

Recently, Aubrey Bloomfield, a graduate student at The New School, and I wrote a piece for The Nation about a sports boycott as a strategy against the occupation of Palestinian land by Israel. Here’s an excerpt:

There appears to be support among Palestinians generally for sporting sanctions against Israel. However, to date BDS has largely been focused on other targets. In recent years, the cultural boycott has become a growing aspect of the movement. While the success or failure of cultural boycotts is debatable (they have had success up to a point), what the South African case points to perhaps is the greater impact of sports boycotts on political attitudes and reform.

One thing that seems to work well—when international diplomacy and common sense have failed—is the threat of withdrawing a rogue nation from the community of sport. In South Africa the slogan “no normal sport in an abnormal society” encapsulated the conviction that as long as the regime excluded the majority of its people from participating in society as equals, it should be excluded from participating in international sports competitions as equals. For white South Africans (and their apologists), sporting isolation was a bitter pill to swallow.

The Israeli government and sports associations’ responses to recent threats of Israeli expulsion from UEFA and FIFA are particularly instructive: Citizens have strong feelings about sport. It is closely tied to national identity, and the symbolic effects of sporting sanctions are more palpable than economic sanctions may be for many citizens (in the way, say, that being denied access to certain commodities may not be).

Up to now, BDS has been largely ambivalent about a sports boycott. Nevertheless, experience has shown that sports boycotts are very powerful tools for international solidarity groups. Ultimately, they could prove crucial in the Palestinian case, forcing a much broader conversation about the Israeli occupation and potentially representing one of the most significant threats yet to the status quo.

Further Reading

Father of the nation

The funeral of popular Angolan musician Nagrelha underscored his capacity to mobilize people and it reminds us that popular culture offers a kind of Rorschach test for the body politic.

A city divided

Ethnic enclaves are not unusual in many cities and towns across Sudan, but in Port Sudan, this polarized structure instigated and facilitated communal violence.

The imperial forest

Gregg Mitman’s ‘Empire of Rubber’ is less a historical reading of Liberia than a history of America and racial capitalism through the lens of a US corporate giant.

Africa’s next great war

The international community’s limited attention span is laser-focused on jihadism in the Sahel and the imploding Horn of Africa. But interstate war is potentially brewing in the eastern DRC.

The Cape Colony

The campaign to separate South Africa’s Western Cape from the rest of the country is not only a symptom of white privilege, but also of the myth that the province is better run.

Between East Africa and the Gulf

Political encounters between the Arab Gulf and Africa span centuries. Mahmud Traouri’s novel ‘Maymuna’ demonstrates the significant role of a woman’s journey from East Africa to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Āfrīqāyī

It’s not common knowledge that there is Iran in Africa and there is Africa in Iran. But there are commonplace signs of this connection.

It could happen to us

Climate negotiations have repeatedly floundered on the unwillingness of rich countries, but let’s hope their own increasing vulnerability instills greater solidarity.