Reason: Speech free everywhere, not in sport

MARK REASON
Last updated 05:00 03/08/2014
NOT ALLOWED: England cricketer Moeen Ali wears wristbands with
Reuters
NOT ALLOWED: England cricketer Moeen Ali wears wristbands with "Save Gaza" and "Free Palestine" on them in a test match last week.

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OPINION: MARK REASON finds the hypocrisy of sports administrators difficult to bear.

Richie McCaw leads the All Blacks out against Australia in a fortnight's time.

The cameras zoom in. There seems to be something written on the strapping around the great leader's knees. Nudge, nudge, go the commentators, I think sir Richie's got a message for us. The letters come into focus.

"100% Pure. Clean and Blue. Stop scum polluting our kids' rivers."

It sure would be divisive. Some farmers might advance on the NZRU with pitchforks. I would stand shoulder to shoulder with Anton Oliver and friends and cheer.

Everyone would be talking about it. Radio phone-ins would be buzzing. Parliament would have to address the issue. Even a few teenagers might sit up and take notice.

Sorry, but it couldn't happen. The modern sporting authorities have decided that our young men and women are not allowed to make political statements.

It might frighten the sponsors. Some amoral corporate might back up the gravy train.

Last week Moeen Ali, the England cricketer, wore a couple of wristbands with "Save Gaza" and "Free Palestine" on them.

Of course only an intrusive TV camera could have picked them up. But never mind that, the thought police immediately donned the riot gear.

Ali was told to remove the "offending" words. ICC regulations "do not permit the display of messages that relate to political, religious or racial activities or causes during an international."

Former England cricketer Steve Harmison said, "He's been a silly boy. He's a cricketer, it's a cricket field and he shouldn't be wearing that."

A few days later Israeli tanks shelled a school that was in the care of the United Nations. Limbs were ripped from bodies. 20 Gazan refugees were killed.

The school was supposed to be a safe haven. The UN accused Israel of perpetrating a war crime.

At the Commonwealth Games, Malaysian cyclist Azizulhasni Awang wore gloves with "Save Gaza" on them.

He received a strong reprimand from team management, who considered sending him home. He might also have been called a silly boy.

Whatever your views on the complex Palestinian issue, I would argue that the justness of the cause is irrelevant, so long as Ali's and Awang's message is within the law of the land.

They are entitled to free speech, or should be. At least the young men care.

Not so, say the world's sporting bodies. Apparently it is all right for the IOC and FIFA to award huge events to places like China and Qatar, despite their records on human rights.

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Apparently it's all right for the IOC to award the Winter Olympics to Russia, despite being in breach of its own charter which forbids discrimination of any kind.

But as we know, it's one law for officials and another law for the athletes.

At the Winter Olympics in Sochi snowboarder Torah Bright was told to remove stickers from her snowboard and helmet that carried a tribute to her friend Sarah Burke, who had died in a training accident. They were considered a political statement.

Ukrainian athletes were banned from wearing black armbands in remembrance of police and protestors who had died in Kiev. Putin and the IOC would presumably have even stopped them thinking such things if it were within their power.

This is a sorry legacy.

It is all right for politicians like John Key to photo-bomb all the big sporting events and use them for political advancement.

It is all right for leaders and war criminals like Adolf Hitler and Vladimir Putin to host the Olympics Games in order to promote their own agendas.

It is all right for Fiji to be thrown out of the Games on political grounds, reinstated, but not allowed to play in the sevens because it was too much hassle to do the draw again. But heaven forbid if a young man or woman were to take a political stance.

There is a rich and noble history of protest.

Tommy Smith and John Carlos made the black power salute at the Mexico Olympics. Andy Flower and Henry Olonga wore black armbands at the 2003 cricket World Cup, in grieving solidarity at what was becoming of Zimbabwe.

Closer to home, Josh Kronfeld wore "ban the bomb" headgear and Cathy Freeman waved the Aborigine flag, an act for which she was censured.

The authorities have got together to put a stop to this sort of free speech.

Heavens, FIFA even banned footballers fat the World Cup from wearing those T-shirts with messages like Mario Balotelli's amusing "Why Always Me?" FIFA decreed, "From now on there can be no slogan or image whatsoever on undergarments even good-natured ones."

Wow, they are even monitoring our undies.

The IRB insists on approving biblical passages on wristbands so that there are "no offensive or political statements."

The NZRU would not say so publicly, but I suspect they are far more ambivalent about this culture of censorship.

Neil Sorensen, the general manager of New Zealand Rugby, says officially, "We would expect that if a player intended to make a personal statement while representing New Zealand they would first raise this with the team and management.

In reality, we have seen very few cases like this.

"The New Zealand rugby team environment is reasonably unique and any player looking to make a statement will be mindful of what binds teams together. The All Blacks have a mantra, team first, individual second.

"As a general rule, players are employed by New Zealand Rugby so cannot wear or exhibit or make statements that bring the game into disrepute or conflict with our sponsors or charities."

Whatever happened to free speech? No wonder our kids don't give a damn about politics.

- Sunday Star Times

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