“Don’t Play With the Dictator”: Politics and the 2014 World Hockey Championships in Belarus (Repost)
May 9, 2014 Leave a comment
Editor’s note: This piece was originally posted on Hockey in Society on October 14, 2013. It was also published by Left Hook Journal on October 20, 2013. With the 2014 International Ice Hockey Federation’s Men’s World Hockey Championships kicking off today in Belarus, we are reposting this article as it is still a highly relevant reminder of the political controversies and power struggles going on behind the scenes of this hockey tournament.
Sporting mega-events such as the FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Games, despite claims by their organizers and boosters about the political neutrality of sport, are deeply enmeshed in political structures. In recent months, a number of these high profile events have drawn the ire of political activists, citizens, and some media precisely because of their political implications. Consider the following examples:
- The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia have become a flashpoint for protest due to the country’s draconian anti-gay laws and the Russian state’s laissez-faire attitude toward documented violence directed toward gay individuals. This has sparked calls for a boycott of the Games and, given the significance of hockey in Russia and the Winter Olympic program, has led many hockey bloggers, media, and personalities (Brian Burke, Victor Hedman, Henrik Zetterberg, and more) to speak out against the laws.
- Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Brazilians took to the streets to protest the government’s high spending on the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, whose economic impact is to the benefit of Brazilian elites at the same time as ordinary citizens face cuts to social services such as health and education.
- The 2022 World Cup, to be held in Qatar, has been thrown into controversy after an investigation by The Guardian revealed widespread labour exploitation and abuse of immigrant workers, largely from Nepal.
Each of these examples highlights some of the ways that sport is enmeshed in, and can contribute to, unequal power relations between individuals and groups in various societies around the world. Thankfully, sport mega-events are increasingly coming under public scrutiny and are having their politics examined in the press. However, there are many other examples of sport contributing to social injustice that are happening on a smaller scale. One such event, which has gained relatively little media attention (especially in North America), is the upcoming 2014 Men’s World Hockey Championships in Belarus.