The bruising election campaign last year in the United States and the election of Donald Trump as president has blurred the lines between sport and politics in North America.
At least three members of the New England Patriots said they won’t visit the White House to meet Trump and be honored as Super Bowl champions, an American tradition. All of those players are African-Americans, and Trump’s firebrand form of populism was seen as racist by some.
Trump’s insistence on building a wall between Mexico and the United States – with Mexico picking up the tab – also has caused Mexican Formula One star Sergio Perez and Mexican Grand Prix organizers to take a very visible and vocal position against Trump’s stance.
Mexican Grand Prix organizers debuted the Twitter hashtag #BridgesNotWalls that it wants fans to use when tweeting about the race. The organizers released a photo of Perez leading a group of fans walking on the Mexican Grand Prix circuit, under a spectator bridge containing a huge billboard featuring the #BridgesNotWalls hashtag.
Perez also dropped his sunglasses sponsor last year when it joked about the construction of the wall in a tweet.
The efforts of Mexican Grand Prix organizers and Perez have divided fans on Twitter. Some have offered strong support, while others have replied with “Stick to sports” diatribes.
So far no MotoGP riders, teams or circuits have dipped their toes into the increasingly toxic political waters of the world. But if Trump continues his all-hours Twitter rage against various foreign countries and religions, will anyone or entity in two-wheeled sport take a stand like Perez and the Mexican Grand Prix organizers?
About the closest we’ve seen to an overt political statement in MotoGP are riders from the Catalunya region in Spain – in which a separatist movement continues to foment – hoisting a Catalan flag on their celebration laps after winning the Catalunya Grand Prix.
Sport and politics usually stay separate through an invisible wall in normal times. But these are extraordinary times, with the world seemingly polarized and dancing on the edge of tumult more than an era since the 1960s, when the civil rights movement swept across America and the Cold War kept an entire globe in a state of jitters.
That era spawned activist athletes like Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe, John Carlos and Tommie Smith. Could a similar figure arise in MotoGP? Is it necessary? Is it possible in this motorsports world driven by sponsors and manufacturers that want to keep their brands and names strictly between the lines?