The idea that sport and politics are an uncomfortable mix is true. But trying to keep them steadfastly apart in a world where sport has become the universal language for many and the easiest way to identify our national pride and tribal identity is almost impossible.

This week we gathered ten leaders with a willingness to discuss the arena of sport and the politics of protest as the first of our Sport for Business Smart Minds events of 2024.

It was a gathering that took place in the surrounds of Trinity College and it took place under Chatham House Rules so as to enable freedom of thought without concern over it being misconstrued.

We will not be naming those present but we are grateful for their openness and their honesty in taking time out to spend two hours thinking and talking.

One degree of change

No earth-shattering truth emerged that can set the world right but they are people of influence and sometimes one degree of change in mindset can trigger far greater outcomes down the line.

There were personal stories shared of people having made meaningful sacrifices to stand up for issues and people that they felt strongly about and were willing to put themselves in a difficult position for.

These sacrifices were more than the time it takes to like a post on social media or hang a flag until the next hot topic emerges.

We discussed the impact of personal choices and whether the real sacrifice is ever balanced by the potential impact. In the end that will always be a decision for individuals to make their peace with. We can never know the full story of a personal motivation to hold or fold, to play or to walk away, to stand up or sit down.

The strength of freedom to choose comes with a responsibility to choose the right path for you and as best you can for the wider world.

Small moments into large movements

We discussed the history of protest, the small moments that sometimes made into large movements, and the impact in particular that depriving those who created and sustained apartheid in South Africa of their sporting identities on a world stage.

But we also spoke of the safe space that is needed for athletes, often young and single-minded before being thrown into a cauldron of judgement.

We talked through the era of sporting boycotts and how decisions taken then impacted the lives of many of those who are now in positions of power and influence. We covered some of that beyond yesterday’s discussion in our highlighting of ten key moments in the history of sporting protest here.

The need to create areas where those in the deepest of conflict can come together was discussed, with Northern Ireland and talking to the terrorists seen as an example of engagement that for both sides was incredibly difficult but which was essential in finding common ground.

The role of international governing bodies of sport was teased out, with action against Russia on one side compared to against Israel on the other and how that can create the rock and hard place moments like Ireland has faced in Basketball and other countries and people face every day in sport, entertainment, and business.

There is an awareness that sport is now such a strong part of everyday life in so many parts of the world, that it is increasingly going to be part of the armory for those who want to protest.

The actions of sport as a willing accomplice to politics were discussed, the IDF guns on the court with the Israeli U17 team a case in recent point but also the Olympics in Berlin on a larger scale.

Pushing back

We talked about the increasing sense among sporting bodies though that they are being put in an impossible situation regarding being placed as moral guardians and arbiters of what is wrong and right and pushing back on making those calls.

Anger at that as an abrogation of responsibility has to be tempered by a recognition that the values and morals of the white Western world are increasingly out of tune with those of the rest of the world and that no one ideology has the right to force its values on another, regardless of how strongly held and right that we believe ourselves to be.

It was thoughtful and thought-provoking. It was not easy but those are the places you need to go in sport and life to make yourself a better athlete, a better leader, or a better person.


Our upcoming Smart Minds events, exclusive to a limited audience of interested Sport for Business members are as follows:

April – Sport and Sustainability

June – esports and its recognition as a sport

August – Sport and the use of data

October – Sport and the impact of AI

If you are interested in being part of those discussions, get in touch with me by email at

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