It struck me – with the force of a Tim Cahill wonder strike – that there was something decidedly wrong with the 2015 Asian Cup.
North Korea. Iran. Saudi Arabia. All run by brutal dictatorial regimes, all with appalling human rights records, but allowed to compete in an international sporting event.
Has the world gone mad? Have we lost our moral compass?
I ask from the perspective of a South African who remembers our isolation from world sport, forced to live off a diet of local competitions and the occasional ‘rebel’ cricket or rugby side visit.
Of course, it was quite right that we were banned, given our cruel apartheid policies, though there were some who argued that sport and politics should be kept separate and that we shouldn’t punish individuals, many of whom opposed the government’s policy of separation, from competing internationally.
Certainly, there were many great South African sportsmen and women denied their opportunity on the world stage, barred from competing at Olympic and Commonwealth Games and from cricket, rugby and soccer world cups.
We had a world-beating cricket team in 1970 (thrashing Australia 4-0 at home) before we were kicked out of world sport, champion rugby and soccer players, swimmers and athletes.
But, I got a real shock when I saw North Korea arrive in Australia to take part in the tournament, a ridiculous charade, given they refused to give media conferences or engage with the public and thankfully were bundled out in the group stages. Clearly instructions came straight from mad dictator Kim Jong-un and his henchmen on how to behave in a foreign country, a rare treat for the lucky few who were able to travel outside of their home country. The rest stay home and starve.
Iran’s another shocker. “The Islamic Republic of Iran is a jihadist theocracy that has dragged Iran into economic depression while executing, imprisoning and intimidating its domestic opponents” wrote the Sydney Morning Herald’s Paul Sheehan recently. Iran is more dangerous than the Islamic State, he added.
Iran’s people are beaten, imprisoned, tortured…but its team is allowed to compete in the Asian Cup. Even the players over here play with fear in their hearts: during the tournament players were warned not to be photographed with young female fans.
As for Saudi Arabia, being a Jew I wouldn’t be allowed into the country (not that I have any plans to visit). Saudi Arabia is by all reports a brutal, repressive place, with medieval laws. The penalty for homosexuality is death. The penalty for blasphemy is death. Commit adultery and the punishment is to be stoned to death. Steal and you lose a hand. State your opinion in a blog and you get flogged.
So, I ask again, has the world lost its moral compass?
Do we now turn a blind eye now to every human rights violation in the name of sport and entertainment?
Or have we finally decided that sport and politics should not mix. If so, a lot of South African sportsmen and women deserve an apology.