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Symposium On Democracy: Sports Breakout Sessions

Written by: Audrey Kough, Campus Sports Staff Writer

Students listen attentively to the 2023 Symposium on Democracy panel on Sportswashing. (Courtesy Danielle Bostjancic)

Washington & Jefferson College held their sixth annual Symposium on Democracy event: a day filled with multiple sessions on a variety of topics that were tied into the overall theme – democracy. There were two sessions held on the topic of sports. The first session was titled “Sports, Ethics, and Society” and it was led by W&J Head Men’s and Women’s Coach, Megan Foster.

Coach Foster started the session by telling a story about her family in athletics. Her grandfather played professional baseball for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Foster said her grandfather was the one who inspired her to be in athletics. She expressed that her grandfather played because he loved the game and not for the money. He had tons of grit and played through countless injuries, all because he loved the game. Foster closed the story by saying he inspired her to become the athlete she was.

After this, Coach Foster stated that every topic that was talked about would be an open discussion and she wanted to hear from the people present in the room about their thoughts and opinions.

The first topic that was discussed was integrity and fairness within the sports world. People present in the discussion along with Coach Foster talked about if sports officials and referees are fair with the calls that they make. Along with this, the topic of instant replay was discussed – what should its future of it look like? How is it fair that some sports have an instant replay and plays get reviewed over and over, but in sports like tennis, most times there are no officials and athletes must make line calls? Coach Foster closed the topic by saying that being fair within a sport builds character, to have integrity means making the right calls even if they are not in your favor.

“How is it fair that some sports have an instant replay and plays get reviewed over and over but in sports, like tennis most times there are no officials and athletes must make line calls?”

The next topic that was laid on the table was NIL (name, image, and likeness). This also leads to a discussion about the intensity of Division I athletics and these athletes on social media. NIL can lead athletes to portray a false image of themselves online and lead people to believe that they are something that they are not. Another factor that could play into this is money. Higher-level athletes can get caught up in brand deals and only focus on the money-earning aspects of their athletic careers. On the reverse side, it was talked about how bigger schools can take advantage of their athletes. Bigger schools know that their athletes attract a lot of attention to their schools, so they may push them too hard for the college or university’s own profit. In higher-level collegiate sports, sometimes athletics get put before academics. But at Division III collegiate schools, academics are put first. Thus creating more well-rounded people and in return setting up the Division III athletes for more success.

To wrap up the discussion, a more serious matter, that has become increasingly popular to discuss was mentioned: mental health in athletics. Nowadays, athletes can put excessive pressure on themselves. However, it is important to realize that you cannot always have perfect days in your sport, and messing up or taking a break is okay. The message that was echoed was to play your sport because you love what you do, not because you are forced to do it.

The second sports session was held by a student panel made up of sophomore Dinah Bailey (Women’s Golf Team), sophomore Ange Dewicki (Women’s Golf Team), and sophomore Gannon Ryan (Men’s Soccer Team). The team led a discussion about sports washing. Sportswashing is “a term used to describe the practice of individuals, groups, corporations, or governments using sports to improve reputations tarnished by wrongdoing.” Essentially, sports washing is reputation laundering.

The team talked about two famous examples of sports washing: the 2022 Qatar World Cup and the Live Golf tour held in Saudi Arabia. In 2022, Qatar spent over 220 billion dollars to build and construct fancy facilities for the event. Meanwhile, the actual home conditions in Qatar are concerning. The citizens of Qatar are very limited in their rights and many people around the world were very upset that the World Cup was being held in Qatar. Many forms of protests were shown from many different countries around the world.

The Live Golf Tour held in Saudi Arabia was a very similar situation. The Live Golf Tour guarantees money for all the golfers who join the tour, as opposed to tours such as the PGA tour where you must earn a certain place to gain or receive any money. This cash prize is an incentive for golfers to join this tour. Saudi Arabia spends so much money on fancy facilities for this tour, meanwhile, women in Saudi Arabia cannot drive. Additionally, basic human conditions are not great in Saudi Arabia.

“Saudi Arabia spends so much money on fancy facilities for this tour but meanwhile women in Saudi Arabia cannot drive.”

Sportswashing has been around for a long time. Sportswashing never works, the truth behind every country always comes out. Some countries use sports to bring attention to social justice issues, but this can be abused when other countries use the technique of sports washing. These same countries try and separate sports from social justice issues. But this can be troubling because big sporting events help to represent human rights at an international and collective level. Knowing about sports washing is very important, as well as holding countries and people accountable for it.

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