#Politics was once the field of philosophical debate about core issues. In recent times however it has undergone a transformation to become a form of diversion for many who follow their favorite politicians as though they were champion sportsmen and no longer someone who should represent them in their life’s struggles. This change of attitude has consequences for modern Democracies and leaves us all the poorer.

The sporting politician

While sport has always been a tool of politics, Italian magnate Silvio Berlusconi used soccer to build his political success. In 1994 he described his entry into politics as “taking to the field” and he called his political party “Forza Italia”, the rallying cry for Italian fans following their relative national teams.

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In addition, he openly used AC Milan the team he owned and took to international success as a platform for his political ambition. In the same way the magnate become politician deliberately turned the already heated atmosphere of Italian politics into an “us” against “them” competition where anyone who opposed him was automatically labeled a “communist” to draw the ire of his most ardent supporters, including those in the media who worked for his newspapers and television stations.

In the end, the sporting connections did not help to keep him in power. Indeed, AC Milan went into decline at the same time as Berlusconi’s career in public office formally ended, but the Italian magnate opened a road that other politicians have followed and in particular #Donald Trump in his victorious presidential campaign.

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During the campaign rallies the Trump followers dressed in their Trump regalia as if they were at a football game regularly chanted “Lock her up” The "Lock her up" chant in reference to the opposition candidate Hillary Clinton. To those following the rallies on television and no doubt also for all those present, the atmosphere at the rallies, which incidentally often occurred in sporting venues, would have taken on the air of high-level football games as undoubtedly was the intention. In fact, millions followed the Electoral College votes as though they were following the score of a tennis match.

Play the ball, not the man

The emphasis on the adversary and not the message in electoral campaigns has potential dangers for the future of politics in the modern democracies. While politics is meant to be adversarial, this competition should be on the comparison of political agendas and the capacities of the respective candidates and not on the image presented at rallies and on the social media which is now a focus point of politicians around the world.

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The lack of proper political discussion which became the central feature of the presidential debates where Donald Trump Trump on terror refused to conform to the rules of behavior only emphasizes the deterioration of proper political debate in many countries. This change in behavior occurred in the United Kingdom during the Brexit campaign, in Australia during their recent federal elections and in the recent Italian referendum campaign. The sense of rivalry was such that Brexit even saw a political assassination. It will be interesting to see if the federal election campaign in Germany next year will follow this trend as well.

For years now the voters have been disappointed in their representatives as they are often perceived to be pandering to special interests rather than those of the citizens and this has led to the rise of small very vocal groups that try to hijack debates on highly emotional issues such as migration and delicate issues such as abortion and equal marriage rights, thus splitting, even more, the electorate.

The transformation of politics into sporting battles of personality only makes this situation worse. It will be interesting to see the reaction of the fans to the current winner if he does not produce the goods expected of him and whether, as regularly happens in sporting venues, the cheering turns into boos, or even worse.