OPINION: I've been wrestling with an ethical dilemma concerning the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix.
The race, cancelled in 2011 because of unrest in Bahrain, went ahead last weekend, despite the pleas of protesters, who said the situation in their country was even more dire.
Various politicians called for a boycott (as they often do), and some drivers conceded they felt uncomfortable competing in Bahrain, but adopted the "following orders" line.
I detest the way a repressive regime, such as in Bahrain, uses a major sports event to bolster its reputation and legitimise itself in the world's eyes.
On the other hand, where do you stop? Who is to act as the world's policeman? As the Bible says: "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."
Sports boycotts have existed for decades.
In 1930, Uruguay won the hosting rights for the first Football World Cup by offering to pay competing teams' travel costs, prompting the other four hosting hopefuls – Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden – to boycott the event.
There was such an outcry when Berlin was chosen to host the 1936 Olympics that Barcelona was mooted as a venue for a "People's Olympics" for countries boycotting the "Nazi Olympics".
Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon boycotted the 1956 Olympics to highlight their objections to the Suez situation.
The Olympics have always been a juicy target. Three in succession were heavily boycotted. The first, in Montreal in 1976, was because New Zealand had sent a rugby team to apartheid-riven South Africa. The second, in Moscow in 1980, was because the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan, though the fact the American President Jimmy Carter trailed in the polls with an election looming seemed more relevant. The third, in Los Angeles in 1984, was payback by the Soviet bloc.
The 1986 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games was boycotted by African, Asian and Caribbean countries protesting at British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's cosy relationship with South Africa.
In New Zealand, the most notable boycott call was in 1981, when the Springboks toured. Two games were cancelled and civil unrest reached unprecedented proportions that winter.
Boycotts and protests are often timed around major sports events because of the attendant publicity. So it's wise to be somewhat cynical.
However, sometimes the cause seems undeniable. How would we feel if Syria was hosting this year's Olympics?
Some say sport and politics shouldn't mix, but they do, all the time. Equally, it is easy to say every country should be left to run its own affairs.
That was the line football officials used when permitting North Korea to participate in the 2010 World Cup while its authoritarian regime starved its citizens.
Should China, with its appalling civil rights record, have been permitted to host the 2008 Olympics? Should we be playing cricket with Zimbabwe while Robert Mugabe's murderous regime remains in power? Should Fiji be welcome in the sports fold while led by an illegal government? And should Bahrain host a grand prix while Shia-led protests against the ruling Sunni monarchy are being brutally repressed?
It's impossible to make a call that covers every contingency. Countries should examine situations as they arise and hopefully act with thought and reason.
The worst thing would be for everyone to simply turn a Nelsonian eye and say they don't care.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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