Politics and sports: do they belong together?
A renewed upsurge in political views and social commentary in the world of esports means some fans are wondering if there’s room for it in a highly competitive industry.
John Estafanos, a third-year student at the University of New Brunswick, is a football fan and has roots for teams like Liverpool, Real Madrid and Barcelona. With an Egyptian background, he cheers for Egypt and African countries at national level.
But as he follows the game, he takes into account teams’ political views and believes it is “inevitable” that national teams are intertwined with the identity of the country they represent.
“There’s definitely that switch when you go out [club teams] to the [national level]. Sometimes you just want to cheer for a team because you have a good opinion of the country and its politics,” Estafanos said.
“Generally, when a particular team plays, whether it’s affiliated with a government or not, it still takes its name, and whether it’s a conscious thing or not, it’s also tied to a country’s reputation and its actions.”
When socio-political activism shows up on the pitch, Estafanos doesn’t see it as an essential part of the game, but rather as a “side issue”. He sees it as a pretty big step if everyone decided to use sports like football as a political platform.
“I think… it might even be a little bit off-putting for the sport,” Estafanos said.
“It gives the sport a little less importance because it’s kind of armed for political reasons. Just keep the game nice and stick with it.
Amir Ayati, who is doing his PhD in chemistry at UNB, grew up in Iran. His first football focus was on Persepolis FC and Esteghlal FC, the two most popular national football organizations in Tehran. The teams fueled a large part of Ayati’s childhood.
“A lot of my best friends were fans of the opposing team, but that was part of the fun. We just grew up debating, talking rubbish and watching the games,” he said.
During the World Cup, where Iran won their match against Wales, Ayati recalls the city taking to the streets to celebrate.
But he sees the team differently.
Amid the unrest, photos emerged of Iranian players sharing a laugh with the country’s President Ebrahim Raisi. This prompted many to withdraw their support for the team.
“That’s why I didn’t want these players and this team to win,” said Ayati.
Ayati said the team may have been pressured to pose for the photos, but he doesn’t think that’s important when a country is poised for revolution. The next act of solidarity by the team, not singing the national anthem at a World Cup game, is not enough, he said.
“Your actions ultimately helped [the government]’ said Ayati.
“When there’s a revolution, you’re either for it or against it. It’s about basic human rights.”
Ayati doesn’t think political activism would harm the beauty of football.
“When you’re human, you worry, and you worry all the time. Why not use your platform?” said Ayati.