Sports have become so well-integrated with the media that boycotts are a legitimate political tool. Boycotts of sports have been used in many high-profile cases such as the 1980 boycott of the Moscow Olympics by the United States. Other high-profile sports boycotts include the highly effective ones used in South Africa to protest apartheid. Sports boycotts can be powerful political tools because as Spector (nd) points out, they are a form of nonviolent dissent or civil disobedience. Using peaceful means, the participants in the boycott work "beyond the usual international legal order" to achieve tangible changes in policy or regime (Spector nd, p. 2).
Sports boycotts are effective because of the connection between sports, the media, and business. If no one cared to watch sports on television, then a boycott of sporting events would be meaningless. One of the goals of a sports boycott is to raise awareness, to garner as much publicity for the political cause as for the sporting event itself. Athletes make a huge sacrifice by participating in the boycott. Many will lose income as a result of the event, as will media corporations and sports sponsors. The consumers of sports -- the viewers -- receive information about a political issue rather than a broadcasted game play.
The power of sports to alter political landscapes should not be underestimated. As Spector (nd) points out, the Internet assists boycotts because of the rapid way information is disseminated. Interestingly, sports allows for a type of political protest that protects the actual state government. The vehicle for the dissent is part of popular culture rather than foreign policy. Even when a conscious coalition of nations join into a concerted boycott of a major international event such as Olympics, the boycott remains a peaceful and populist movement. Within a country too, sports boycotts can inspire political activism on domestic issues.
Spector, J.B. (nd). Non-traditional diplomacy: Cultural, academic and sports boycotts and change in South Africa. Retrieved Feb 1, 2010 from http://www.anc.org.za/un/conference/jbspector.pdf
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