Do we stand by our principles or have our principles simply become public-facing banners behind which we stand, yet for which we do little?
The Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton completed his practice session for the Grand Prix in Qatar this week wearing a helmet emblazoned with the Rainbow Flag, a flag which has been widely used by the LGBTQ+ community for several decades. Lewis Hamilton has apparently been praised for this ‘bold’ move and for his “…incredible act of allyship… to show solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community…”. The law in Qatar precludes same-sex marriage or co-habitation and prosecutes sodomy with up to 3 years in Prison for non-Muslims and a possible Death Sentence for Muslims (under Sharia Law). (This law has been in place since 2004.)
According to an article by the BBC, Lewis Hamilton has said of Qatar “These places need scrutiny. Equal rights is a serious issue.”. Surely then if equal rights is a serious issue this would call for a greater reaction than simply wearing a coloured helmet? Surely a better act of support for the LGBTQ+ community would be not to go there at all? A refusal to participate by the current World Champion would surely send a much stronger message than simply changing his helmet? But perhaps Lewis Hamilton would suffer financially if he refused to compete… maybe it would mean that he would be in breach of contract, or perhaps he would lose his last chance to win the championship again this year… All of which of course pales in comparison to the fate of those that are imprisoned or who risk death…
If my reaction appears cynical, it is perhaps a reaction to the fact that it is all too easy to say that you believe in something – as long as you don’t have to actually do anything.
The disconnect between words and deeds is stark – particularly in sporting environments… The world governing body of football (FIFA) awarded the men’s World Cup to Qatar for the summer of 2022; with the then FIFA President Sepp Blatter asking fans to refrain from any sexual activities, saying that he wanted the game of football to be open to everybody and all cultures… I wonder how on earth it can be considered that football is open to all people and cultures when the largest tournament in football is being held in a country that bans homosexuality.
Football in itself seems to be overflowing with egregious examples of saying one thing and doing another… This year saw the completion of the postponed 2020 men’s European Football Championship – during which the Mayor of Munich requested permission from UEFA (exactly why permission was needed is beyond me) that the Munich stadium be lit up in the colours of the Rainbow Flag. The request was made to allow a show of support for the LGBTQ+ community in the face of recent law changes in Hungary. UEFA denied this request because of the “political context” – and then went on to say that despite this refusal, it supports diversity and inclusion, and that racism and homophobia are (amongst other things) a “stain on our society”. I find it odd that UEFA are happy making a political statement, just apparently not happy with having that statement seen by the millions of television viewers during a football match.
Yet again it seems that words are fine, and actions are not – unless they are insignificant or have no financial impact – such as wearing rainbow-flag armbands or helmets…
This week has also seen concerns being raised about the Chinese Tennis Player Peng Shuai – who has not been seen or heard from since she posted on social media that she had been sexually assaulted by a member of the Chinese government. Since this time, concerns have been raised by other tennis players, governments and the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) – who have threatened to cease holding tournaments in China unless verifiable proof is provided that she is OK. Whether or not the WTA actually do cancel the tournaments remains to be seen – although given the behaviour of other sporting governing bodies it seems unlikely… or perhaps I am being unfair.
It is easy perhaps to argue, that it is not the role of Lewis Hamilton, or UEFA, or the WTA to involve themselves in the politics of human rights – this is sport that we are talking about after all not politics, but the reality of the situation is that for as long as these individuals or bodies continue to play/ perform or operate in these countries they are in fact tacitly approving of the current state of affairs. This in itself is entirely their decision, however it clashes starkly with the comments that they make, and it shows that although they may (verbally) stand by the principles of human rights, they value other principles more highly.
Without concrete action behind the words, then the principles that are voiced stand for little. So why do such governing bodies behave in this way? It seems to me that the answer (as is often the case) is money – suspending a Grand Prix or a football tournament costs those governing bodies money – likely the players/ performers too.
It may seem easy for me to sit here and blithely write about actually standing up for your principles; especially when I, (like so many of us I suspect) work for companies which do not display the same principles that we hold personally. Yet I would like to think that if I was a multi-millionaire I would be in a perfect position to be able to support my principles with actions – certainly better placed than I personally am now. Certainly UEFA can afford to allow the Munich stadium to be lit up in a rainbow flag, and certainly FIFA has no need to decide to host a tournament in Qatar.
I only hope that the WTA keeps to its word and continues its support for Peng Shuai… perhaps for once, principles will be supported with action.