Sporting political gestures


From Black Power at the Olympics to Eddie Irvine's shamrock

1968 Black Power salute:Everything was carefully planned at the Mexico Olympics in 1968. Tommie Smith would wear a black scarf representing black pride, and John Carlos beads around his neck to remember those lynched back home. They would bow their heads during The Star-Spangled Bannerand raise their fists. But, what’s this? Carlos forgot to bring his gloves. It was fellow athlete and podium finisher Australian Peter Norman who suggested the two Americans wear a glove each. All three played a heavy price. Smith and Carlos were suspended from the US team, banned by the IOC, and vilified by the American media. For voicing sympathy to their cause, Norman was deselected from his national team.

Boban strikes for independence:It was May 1990. Yugoslavia was at near boiling-point when Red Star Belgrade faced Dinamo Zagreb in Croatia’s main city. Just a few weeks earlier, Croatian independence parties had swept to power in the province’s first multi-party elections.

A riot broke out and Yugoslav police started attacking Dinamo fans. It was then Zagreb midfielder Zvonimir Boban leapt into action, kung-fu kicking a policeman in an attempt to defend fans. Boban became a national hero, and a strong advocate for Croatian independence. After the war, he captained the Croatian team which finished third in the 1998 World Cup.

Freddy told to stick to no logos:Former Tottenham and West Ham striker Frédéric Kanouté fought his employers Sevilla and won after insisting that he not wear their sponsor’s logo. As a Muslim, he objected to advertising an internet gambling site. During a game last January, he lifted his jersey to reveal a shirt with the word “Palestine” on it. He was given a yellow card and fined €3,000. Some conspiracy theorists contrast this treatment with the lack of punishment meted on Ghanaian John Paintsil who waved an Israeli flag at the 2006 World Cup in sympathy with his employers Hapoel Tel Aviv.

Eddie Irvine wears the shamrock:Irish sports stars are an apolitical bunch, so when the Newtownards native asked Formula 1 bosses to hoist a white flag with a shamrock and play Derry Airwhenever he won a race he grabbed our attention.

Irvine’s family had received threatening phone calls after the Tricolour was raised following a podium finish in 1997. Irvine has little time for politics. In an interview earlier this year, he described Northern politicians as “embarrassing and I’m not easily embarrassed”. But Bernie Ecclestone was unimpressed by his non-sectarianism, and insisted Irvine compete under the Union Jack. Irvine replied by racing with a shamrock on his helmet.

Wrestling Nazism:Champion German wrestler Werner Seelenbinder had planned to use the Berlin Games to publicly embarrass Hitler. A communist sympathiser, he had refused to give the Nazi salute after winning a pre-Olympics competition but plotted a more audacious gesture for the games themselves, including a radio interview which he hoped would expose the German pogroms. As the pressure began to mount, however, he underperformed in the semi-finals – and so missed a podium finish. After the war broke out, he was arrested, tortured and executed.