It can escape no one that sport has become the latest battleground for the culture war. But the only division fans want is a winning margin for their team. They don't need identity politics to make sport even more divisive. It's time to leave the opinions off the field, argues Noel Yaxley

Do you remember the time when you could go and watch a sporting event and not have it feel like you were attending a social justice lecture?

It can escape no one that sport has become the latest battleground for the culture war. This once a-political realm has literally bent the knee. The recent killing of George Floyd in America led to the reawakening of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. We are now living in a hyper-racialised society and all over the world, there has been a huge rise in political virtue-signalling from sportsmen expressing solidarity with the BLM movement.

The first to pay attention was football.

Once Covid-19 had abated, Premier League football returned to our screens. Admittedly to empty stadiums, but broadcast to millions through numerous pay-per-view channels. For the first twelve matches, Premier League players all wore shirts emblazoned with 'Black Lives Matter' in place of their names, in what looked more like an act of ritualistic self-abasement. In order to really drive the message home, players amassed around the centre circle and 'took a knee'.

It was not just the players. Broadcasters towed the progressive line too. For an organisation that claims it "does not endorse any political organisation or movement" the Premier League was doing a fine job as a BLM protestor. Maybe they should have told their presenters who were all adorned with 'black lives matter' badges whilst appearing on television.

It was not limited to football. The calm and serene world of cricket was next in line. Not even a sport affectionally called a "gentleman's game" could escape a movement responsible for months of rioting, leading to millions of dollars of property damage and the deaths of countless people, one of which was a retired policeman.

The first cricket to restart were the one-dayers. Players joined on the boundary in what looked like an embarrassing 'no, you go first' scenario. Then, once again dropping to one knee to show solidarity with George Floyd. But deviate from popular opinion at your peril. It was only six years ago that England cricketer Moen Ali was reprimanded by the International Cricket Council for wearing a 'save Gaza' wristband. He was told he was "free to express his views away from the field." He obviously wasn't holding the correct popular political opinion then.

Or take basketball in the United States. When the NBA withdrew from an all-star game in North Carolina due to a disagreement with the states transgender bathroom laws, the organisation was described as "the wokest professional sports league."

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It's hard to disagree.

Basketball's ratings in the few weeks since its return were 14 per cent below the pre Covid averages. One million people tuned in to watch the New Orleans v San Antonio Spurs game, whereas the less woke PGA Golf Championship – which aired same Sunday – drew 5 million. Lebron James' incessant Trump bashing proved sports fans are getting frustrated and angry with athletes using sport as platform to make political gestures and statements. Your average viewer is simply not interested.

What about Formula One?

Is the first thing you think about when it comes to high-powered cars the systemic injustice of institutional racism?  Well it is when you are Lewis Hamilton. The driver has become one of the most vocal supporters of the BLM movement. Going so far as to "talk" to other drivers who refuse to take the knee.

Before the recent Austrian GP, six drivers refused to take the knee. One such was fellow driver Charles Leclerc. Saying of Hamilton "I believe what matters are facts and behaviours in our daily life rather than formal gestures." In other words stop virtue signalling!

And Leclerc is correct.

If we want to help stop this we need to start at the bottom: by challenging the narrative with fact.

Whilst it would be extremely naive to admit racism did not exist in this country anymore, it is safe to say things have improved significantly in the last forty years. As a rational optimist, I believe this will only continue to get better. According to the last census, nearly one couple in ten is of mixed-ethnicity and 2.2 per cent self-identified as mixed heritage. Not to mention the fact that we live in a multicultural liberal society where you are free to become a multi-million pound football player or come from a rough housing estate and through hard work become a multiple formula one world champion. An irony seemingly lost on Lewis Hamilton.

Sport is already divisive. The only division fans want is a winning margin for their team. They don't need identity politics to make sport even more divisive. Leave the opinions off the field.

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