Despite increased security, Just Stop Oil protesters interrupted play at Wimbledon on Wednesday. Not once, but twice.

Why is sport a soft (strategic?) target for protesting activists? What is the rationale behind the protesters’ modus operandi?

Non-sporting events at the 2023 Grand National are still fresh in the memory. The instalment will be remembered for the mayhem wrought by animal rights activists who descended on the Aintree Racecourse and proceeded to wreak havoc, causing delays to the schedule.

While the protests divided opinion, none can argue the protesters did not have a cause. There was a cause alright, a noble cause.

However, it was the tactics employed which undermined that cause and rankled many observers. The protesters’ conduct provoked widespread condemnation, including by those sympathetic to the cause but not enamoured with the method of protest.

For their part, the activists argued that they were advocating for voiceless animals. They railed against cruelty to race horses and agitated for industry reforms. Better still, they called for an outright ban on horse racing.

But what about the inconvenience to ‘innocent’ spectators, the infringement on other people’s rights?

The activists’ argument goes that those at the races deserved the inconvenience they suffered for propping up the industry. By attending the event, protesters argued, horse-racing fans are enablers, complicit in the abuse of the animals – abuse during grooming and in retirement, and the physical abuse inflicted by the jockey’s whip during the gallop to the finish line.

Fair enough.

‘He is a brutal dictator’

In 2003, some 20 years ago, a couple of protesters ran onto the Lord’s pitch and disrupted the cricket Test between England and Zimbabwe. It wasn’t exactly the mother of all protests Stop The Tour organisers had promised, but the disruption was keenly felt nonetheless.

The protesters were aggrieved that England were fraternizing with a national team from a country presided over by a despot, Robert Mugabe, who also happened to be the Patron of his country’s cricket governing body as well as the architect of the suffering of many Zimbabweans.

By causing a temporary halt to the match the placard-carrying protesters sought to raise awareness about Mugabe’s tyrannical rule and to highlight the plight of his victims.


In both cases above, it is clear to see why the protesters saw the sporting events they disrupted as fair game. There were both credible and tenuous justifications for targeting the events.

However, other sporting events where no correlation between cause and target existed have been similarly disrupted this year. The World Snooker Championship and the Rugby Union Premiership final also fell foul of Just Stop Oil protests.

The orange menace

When Just Stop Oil protesters invaded the Lord’s pitch on Wednesday last week, I immediately looked for a plausible reason why the Ashes Test would be a legitimate target for disruption. Were the Ashes protagonists sponsored by non-renewable energy companies perhaps, causing them to invite and incur the ire of environmentalists?

Similarly, when A22 Network protesters invaded the track at the Stockholm Diamond League meet on Sunday and spread a banner across the track a few metres from the finish line, I wondered what environmental sin the event had committed to offend the protesting environmentalists.

The Australia and England cricket teams are not sponsored by energy companies. I couldn’t find evidence of the ECB or Cricket Australia being associated with oil, gas or coal companies either.

So, why are Just Stop Oil and A22 Network activists disrupting sporting events?

The answer in one word: publicity.

Hijacking sports platforms

To oil their protest machineries and raise awareness about their causes, Just Stop Oil and other activist groups target sporting events as a matter of strategy.

The groups crave publicity and are proving themselves to be ardent disciples of the gospel that no publicity is bad publicity.

Their modus operandi is quite simple; gatecrash/disrupt major sporting events and piggyback on their high profiles for free publicity.

Cricket matches don’t come any bigger than an Ashes Test at the hallowed ‘Home of Cricket.’ Protesters knew that if their antics could get as much as a passing mention during the broadcast of a match watched by millions around the globe it would be a massive publicity boost for their cause.

Images were transmitted to all corners of the world, to every household watching the match. The protesters successfully managed to append their cause to a sporting contest.

The disruption is still being talked about long after the sporting event concluded. And that is exactly what the activists want; their cause to stay on the radar and long in the memory.

The activists know that the higher the profile of the disrupted sporting event the bigger the publicity capital for their cause.

The backlash doesn’t faze the protesters at all. Arrests or unceremonious ejection from sporting venues are a small price to pay for the free publicity. In fact, the activists wear their brush with the law as badges of honour.

Barking up the wrong tree

But why must sport bear the brunt of protests against government policies that have nothing to do with sport? Why must sports be treated as a government surrogate, terrorised by environmentalists for the perceived sins of government?

It’s a mystery why activists regard sporting events as legitimate targets for their protests, or treat sport as legitimate collateral damage in their war against policy makers.

Protests the new terror?

Decrying Just Stop Oil’s protests at Lord’s, a spokesman for 10 Downing Street described the activists’ antics as “guerilla tactics” while Energy Secretary Grant Shapps labelled the environmental group’s favoured tactics “anarchist stunts.”

The A22 Network protesters at the Stockholm Diamond League were also roundly criticized by spectators and athletes alike for similar tactics. The culprits were led off the track with boos ringing in their ears. Not that they cared. Their mission had been accomplished.

The A22 Network protesters at the Stockholm Diamond League

There was also very little sympathy for the Lord’s invaders in 2003. They were jeered by sections of the crowd, who were clearly not impressed by the antics.

Just Stop Oil protests have become a clear and present danger. In response, event organizers are forced to introduce more stringent security checks and to beef up security at venues to mitigate the threat of disruption.

Event organisers are now also being forced to think about contingency plans. For example, an alternative pitch was prepared for the Test Championship final at The Oval just in case protesters disrupted the match and damaged the wicket.

And innocent sports enthusiasts bear the brunt of these protests.

Thousands of fans were forced to wait in snaking queues before gaining access to Wimbledon as security staff conducted checks to ensure that no ‘subversive’ material was smuggled into the venues.

Still, that was not enough. On Wednesday protesters managed to evade the checks and proceeded to disrupt two matches by throwing orange confetti and other objects on the courts.

Remember a time when matches were delayed or even canceled to allow sniffer dogs and suitably qualified security personnel to sweep through venues for bombs or other explosives?

These Just Stop Oil protests present a not too dissimilar kind of disruptive terror. Sport has a new threat and nuisance to contend with.


I'm Barrie Jarrett, born in Leeds, lived over a decade in South Africa, CEO And Co Founder of Planet Sport Limited and Planet Bet Limited.

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