Olympic Blatter: boycott on the brain

Sepp Blatter is going to Sochi. So the FIFA president declares in a recent issue of FIFA Weekly. The magazine includes a two-page selective history of boycott movements. In his “presidential notes” accompanying this weird article, Blatter characterizes the boycotter as “running away” from the problem rather than confronting it. He makes a vague gesture towards FIFA’s even more vague stand against the unpleasantness of “discrimination.”


He can’t bring himself to write words like “homophobia,” or “gay.” It’s OK to acknowledge that racism is bad. But sexism and homophobia? Not fit for print. He says that he is an advocate for social inclusion and participation, but that commitment does not extend to the words one uses in such a “conversation” about said advocacy.

There is no reference in this FIFA Weekly article to Russia’s psychotic anti-gay laws, not one use of a word associated with homosexuality (e.g. “gay,” “anti-gay”) in the FIFA Weekly story on boycotts and the Olympics. Not one. Furthermore, in this piece of half-hearted propaganda, FIFA editors almost exclusively reference the US/Soviet Olympic boycotts as evidence of how boycotts don’t work. There is not one mention of the most famous boycott movement of the twentieth century, one which had a big impact on both the Olympics and the World Cup – and, indeed, the make-up of FIFA: the boycott and divestment movement against apartheid South Africa. Members of the Confederation of African Football and the Asian Football Federation boycotted the 1966 World Cup in response to FIFA’s aggressively colonialist policies limiting African and Asian participation in the tournament; CAF nations in particular also linked their boycott to FIFA’s apologist behavior toward South Africa and Rhodesia. (See, for example, Two Hundred Percent‘s overview of this period.)

That boycott moved African and Asian participation in the tournament forward, and it brought about the end of apartheid South Africa’s recognition by FIFA. This movement was led not by government leaders, but by the people – by students and activists all over the world. South Africa’s invitation to participate in the 1968 Olympics was one of the platforms for the Olympic Project for Human Rights (and that invitation was revoked, in response to political pressure). That movement led to one of the most enduring images in all of sports history (the raised fists and bowed heads of Tommie Smith, John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics). Black athletes in 1968 were fighting for human rights – boycotting events in South Africa, and divesting from South African institutions and companies was a major part of that.

How anyone could have a conversation about boycotts and not mention South Africa is beyond me. That Blatter would describe boycott movements as cowardly (as “running away from the problem”) is despicable. Read that “presidential note” if you want a refresher course on why, whenever Blatter appears in a tournament stadium, crowds unite in a chorus of jeers.


  1. The difference between the South African boycot and all other ones was that it was across all sporting events which is why it was succsessful -the 80 and 84 Olympic boycots were one offs. I hve to say as someone who usually defends my country we Brits did not have a good war against apartheid. I don’t know how much you know about cricket but England kept playing against SA until 1968 when we were due to tour there but we had picked a cape coloured South African Basil D’Oliveria – who left SA for Britain because his colour meant he couldn’t play Test cricket. He qualified for and was picked for England and when we picked him to tour SA their Government banned him and the MCC scrapped the tour because we weren’t allowed to play the team we had picked. Unbeliveably we invited SA to come to Britain 1n 1970! The tour got scrapped because of Government pressure but what on earth the TCCB – who ran English cricket at the time – were thinking of I had no idea. Don’t get me started on Zola Budd…
    You might be interested to know that Jorn Arlott – the man who brought D’Oliveria to England – went to SA once. He was asked to fill in a form asking what race he was. He wrote “Human ” Sums up a great man.
    As for Russia- while their law is dispicable I wonder if Western pressure might be counter productive. It could allow Putin to play the “anti-West” card. Especially as Russia is by no means the only offender – a key difference betwwen the Russian case and apartheid SA where only they and Rhodesia had that revolting system of Government. And as far as Blatter is concerned – I’d be here to 2018 if I tried to list the reasons people hate him but he is hardly likely to boycott Sochi or criticizse Putin when his organisation’s main event is coming to the same country in 2018.

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