As we sit and watch the Winter Olympics, and ponder the deep meaning of curling we are frequently reminded about how politics and sports have mixed in the Olympics. From the tragedy of Munich, to the inspiration of the Korean 'unified' team the Olympics have been used for political statements. They were used as a pawn in the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States as well.
But the mix of Politics/Sports is not limited to the Olympics. Sport has been a means of cultural exchange between bitterly opposed parties. Iran and the USA have had an exchange of wrestling teams. Israel has a history of little league and soccer events with its Arab opponents. US soldiers regularly use baseball and soccer as a means to communicate with Iraqi and Afghan communities and humanize both sides.
Sports are just another tool of the modern diplomat. Sport has also been used to advance Civil Rights. There is plenty of evidence in the USA that Jackie Robinson helped white America and black America see commonality. College basketball also addressed the issue with that historic match between Texas Western and Kentucky.
In soccer we have seen race relations in France and England advance because of the sport, not in spite of it. There are even recent overtures to reach out and prevent homophobic and gay slurs within the English League system, and while players were not willing to speak out against that bigotry it is still an early advancement to remove a stain on sports - the closeted gay teammate.
Sport offers us an opportunity to interact, to engage, and yes to forget. Ideally to forget our differences. Sounders FC will be hosting three international friendlies and one must wonder if we will see a mix between politic and sport. If we do, will it be to positively influence our community and the communities invited here? Or will it be a stain?
The Sounders publicly declare their core values. I, and hopefully others, agree with those core values. Unfortunately there are some very famous, and fairly good clubs in the international game that do not fit with those core values.
Passion - Community - Courage - Excellence
All under the banner of "Democracy in Sports"
There are numerous clubs that don't really necessarily fit within the values of the Community here in the Puget Sound.
Juventus, unfortunately, has a history of fines due to the racist behavior of its fans. Most recently the taunts were so significant that they were forced to play in an empty stadium. They aren't the only club with problems in Italy, it happens at all levels. From the link above we learn.
Near the Umbrian town of Terni a few weeks ago, a small amateur team, ASD Nuova Casteltodino, made national headlines when the whole team walked off the pitch after one of their two players of Nigerian origin was called a "dirty Negro" by an opposition player.
But the stain of racism is not the only stain on soccer. Two of the most famous clubs have a history of violence and religious bigotry. The Old Firm - Celtic and Rangers - have a history of sectarianism and violence as the two sides built their fan-bases by tying themselves to sides in the conflict of Northern Ireland. While yes there have been improvements there are still issues, and certainly history.
While every year there are fewer and fewer clubs that can be tied to intolerance and bigotry these are still issues facing our globe, our nation and our region. In this writer's opinion these three name football clubs though are ones that do not deserve the financial support of the Puget Sound.
I am not crazy enough to say that there should be a political test, nor a vote by fans, to determine what clubs should visit our region and face the Sounders. But I am crazy enough to express the opinion that the Sounders don't need the money badly enough to sacrifice our community's values by making money off of clubs that fail to recognize the basic rights of humanity.
UPDATE: Former Mayor Greg Nickels was on Radio Sounders over the weekend and talked about this issue, and many others. Not surprisingly someone who was known during their time for being inclusive and compassionate is has an opinion worth hearing. Overall the interview is a mix of politics and sport as seperate issues with this really being the only bridge between the two.