Olivier Busquet has defended his decision to wear a “Free Gaza” T-shirt at the final table of the EPT High Super High Roller Event in Barcelona, a tournament he went on to win for $1.18 million. Busquet and friend Daniel Colman caused a storm of controversy recently when they appeared at the final with pro-Palestinian political slogans emblazoned across their chests.
The principal objector was Card Player Lifestyle’s Robbie Stravinsky, whose outrage and insistence that there is no place for politics in poker prompted PokerStars to consider banning clothing that includes political statements from their tournaments.
“In retrospect it was a mistake to allow them entry,” said Eric Hollreiser, head of corporate communications for the Rational Group. “Our tournaments are designed to promote poker and poker competition and not as a platform for political statements. Players have many channels to express their views on world politics, but our tournaments are not an appropriate place. We will refuse entry to any player displaying political statements of any kind.”
Is there a place for politics in poker? Many people think not, including Victoria Coren Mitchell, who wrote in her blog that it’s an “old unwritten rule” that there should be “no politics or religion at the table.” However, she was quick to qualify this statement by saying that this is simply how she prefers things to be; to actually go as far as banning political statements at the table represents to her a “common and ancient danger … the failure to distinguish between thinking somebody shouldn’t do something and that they shouldn’t be allowed to do something.”
According to Busquet, however, there are not enough politics in poker, and part of the reason for the stunt was to stir a bit of life into the stereotypically apathetic and apolitical poker player.
“There was a specific attempt to inject some politics into the poker world,” he said. “…The poker community is cool about that because the poker community doesn’t care too much about politics… and that’s part of the problem.”
It was also important, he said, to “show compassion and solidarity with a place that, no matter what you think about the situation, has clearly suffered a lot.”
Many, such as Nolan Dalla, believe the whole controversy is much ado about nothing: “There was nothing profane nor vulgar about either item of clothing. Frankly, the T-shirts would hardly even be noticed on the streets of any cosmopolitan city.”
Is there a place for politics in poker? The conversation will undoubtedly continue. Meanwhile, Busquet’s Â T-shirt-gate has shown us at the very least, as the EPT winner says, is that “it’s worth having the conversation about whether it’s appropriate or not.”