Racism in sport reflects its presence in society
The international media has been adept at making know the extent to which there is much evidence of racism in sport in contemporary society. This is not to say that the international media have not at times been just as readily engaged in racism.
In Australia, Yvonne Goolagong, an Australian aborigine who emerged as a star on the world stage of Tennis, suffered tremendously for merely being indigenous. She was not considered authentically Australian even though the colonials came and met her people already there.
At the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria, British Colombia, Canada, Australian sprinter, Cathy Freeman, an aborigine, was cautioned by the President of the Australian Commonwealth Games Association following her 400m victory celebration with both the Australian and Aborigine flags that a repetition of use of the latter flag would result in her being sanctioned. Of course the then Australian Prime Minister, intervened from home and acknowledged the aborigine flag, thereby staving off an unsavoury spate of events.
There are those who would argue that the appearance of Arthur Ashe and later, the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, on the international Tennis scene, ruffled the feathers of the global leadership of the sport and challenged many supporters of the sport.
Ashe’s response to racism was simply this… racism is not an excuse to not do the best you can. He lived this approach.
In 2008 Indian cricketer, Harbhajan Singh, allegedly called Andrew Symonds a ‘monkey’ during a Test match in Australia.
In October 2013 Jack Jebb, a player on Arsenal’s under-18 team, received a four-match ban and a £1,800 fine for racist language during a game
During the course of this year, Brazil’s Neymar, playing football in Europe for Barcelona, was the victim of monkey chants in the game against Espanyol.
Mario Balotelli, playing in and for Italy, has been the object of racist remarks.
More recently, Dani Alves, another Brazilian player in Europe, playing for Barcelona, had a banana thrown at him during his team’s encounter with Villarreal.
Of course, the American media have gone to town on owner of the US Basketball tea, LA Clippers, Donald Sterling, for his racist comments made during a telephone conversation.
There is evidence of racism in virtually all sport played around the world. The media do not always report the incidents and so it continues seemingly unabated.
On Sunday 4 May 2014, in the aftermath of the recent issue with Alves, Atletico Madrid fans taunted Levante midfielder, Pape Diop, with monkey chants
On Sunday 11 May, AC Milan players had bananas thrown at them during a 2-1 defeat at Atalanta.
Dani Alves picked up the banana and had a bite from it, a way of rejecting the vicious taunt. He later stated, we have suffered this is Spain for some time.
The Villarreal fan has been banned.
We were to subsequently have several football stars tweeting fans showing themselves eating bananas, a deliberate strategy seemingly agreed to by Alves and Neymar, as a way of showing the racists that they are happy to be associated with the monkeys who eat the fruit.
FIFA claims that those found to engage in racism would face a heavy penalty.
In the case of Donald Sterling the NBA Commissioner, Sterling, has imposed a life ban and a fine of $2.5m.
Former NBA superstars, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan immediately came out against the continued presence of racism in the sport as also did several coaches and sponsors of clubs.
Magic Johnson noted that it was most interesting that the racist remarks came from the owner of a club, LA Clippers, that was predominantly black, and in a league, the NBA, that is also dominated by blacks.
Pape Diop stated that the racist taunts he received from the crowds are an issue that has affected me a lot. They called me monkey and I turned and imitated a monkey. I am tired of racism in football. And there’s a lot.
Diop also stated, I was going to take a corner and some of the Atletico fans started making monkey chants. To defuse the situation I danced.
Former England football star, Gary Lineker, reacted to the taunting of Diop. He stated, Spanish football must face up to the fact that they have a serious racist problem. They can’t continue to bury their heads in the sand.
No one in sport would ever forget Adolf Hitler, anxious to showcase his super race, found himself eating his words when Jesse Owens defeated all before him at the Berlin Olympics in 1936, before Hitler’s very eyes.
The life-long friendship that developed between Long of Germany and Owens of the USA, stands as a fine example of how best to redress racism in sport.
Rather interestingly there is no scientific basis for the division of the peoples of the world into the three popular categories, Caucasoid, Mongoloid and Negroid. For many years these concepts were unknown and therefore not used to differentiate people.
Race, now based on biological or physical features, came into use largely as a result of the exploitation of Africans for the purpose of slavery in the Americas as part of European colonization and conquest of this part of the world.
Race therefore became a convenient and useful social construct to justify the dominance of the white planters over the blacks that they enslaved. They perpetuated a view that became the world view that people of a lighter hue were superior in all aspects over the blacks.
It also became fashionable for academics of engage themselves sin the production of pseudo-scientific theoretical formulations, based on biology, to justify their prejudiced ideology of racial superiority.
Race has largely been associated with a person’s skin colour.
Race then become a social construct that has been deliberately perpetuated across the globe and has been fuelled by the process of socialization through the ages.
Racism is therefore emerged and is defined as an action or attitude, conscious or unconscious that subordinates an individual or group based on skin colour.
Racism is a view that people of can be hierarchically ranked based on their skin colour. It manifests itself in the exercise of prejudice of all sorts and in all spheres of life against people deemed inferior by virtue of their skin colour.
Racism has been evident in many countries around the world for centuries. Of course in the past century the world watched the spectre of racism in the southern states of the USA and the struggle by the Civil Rights Movement, beginning with the refusal of Rosa Parks to give up her seat in the bus, to rid America of racial segregation.
In South Africa Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) engaged in a bitter struggle to rid the society of the brutish practice of apartheid.
While the world considered the end of South African apartheid the ushering in of a new era it would be foolhardy to conclude that this meat the eradication of racism.
Racism in sport
Racism in sport is witnessed in discrimination, harassment or vilification by players directed at other players; by spectators directed at players; or racist behaviour among rival spectator groups, which spill over into disruptions and violence in the stands. It also includes the actions of sporting officials and coaches, as well as media commentators.
There are many who still argue that West Indies cricket was a bastion of racism for a very long time and that it essentially came to an end as a result of the joint struggles of CLR James and Frank Worrell and Learie Constantine for Worrell to be granted the captaincy of the West Indies team based purely on merit rather than on colour.
Some cricket analysts have argued that in the tour to Australia, 1951-2, when Denis Atkinson led the West Indies team, the black members of the team were treated to chronic racism. Stories have been recounted of Frank Worrell’s stance in defence of the black members of the team and in defiance of the racism perpetrated against them.
For years in almost every Caribbean country under British colonial rule there were highly favoured all-white exclusive cricket teams.
It was not surprising that it was not until the 1960-1970s that efforts were made and eventually bore fruit in respect of the establishment of the Trinidad and Tobago Cricket Board that became the official national representative body for the sport in the twin-island Republic. Until that time representation on the West Indies Cricket Board came from the Queen’s Park Cricket Club, for many years an exclusive all-white organization.
Of course, across the region, as it was during slavery, the blacks did the menial jobs around the clubs and their facilities.
The history of Tennis and Swimming in the Caribbean reveals them to have been exclusive to the whites and the upper class before opening up to all social classes in the more recent past.
Racism and society today
From a sociological standpoint while many may wish to think otherwise there is reason to believe that racism is very much alive and well across the world.
Studies on education in the US have often revealed the naked prejudice that for years committed black students to sport and music rather than academics.
Some may recall Bernard Coard’s 1971 report on how the West Indian child is made educationally subnormal in the British school system.
In every one of the Anglophone Caribbean islands there is a legacy of racial bias in education as in almost every sphere of national life. These cultural experiences run deep.
The thesis being proposed here is that racism has always been and continues to be a reflection of the society in which it occurs.
While many accept Edward Kamau Brathwaite’s stance that colonisation, conquest and slavery left us a legacy of Creolisation, the mix of peoples does not in any way avert racism. He must have been aware of this while living and writing in Jamaica and his native Barbados.
We are always anxious to point to societies some distance from us rather than examine the practice of behaviour in our respective societies and what it says about us as a people.
In the Caribbean today and especially in St Vincent and the Grenadines there seems an almost mortal fear of broaching the topic of race. Indeed many of our people do not wish to be reminded of the experience of slavery and its consequences for the society in which we live today. It is something they would rather leave behind them or buried under the carpet.
Why is it that girls still refer to some boys as being too black and ugly for them to engage in a relationship?
Why would anyone even suggest that another individual would not be recognised by a white person in the middle of the dark of night when standing alongside a person of a lighter complexion?
Why do concepts of beauty still feature sharp noses, thin lips, slight foreheads and light complexion?
Caribbean societies have become proficient at denying the existence of racism in our midst simply because we wish to will it away. This may well be the reason that few were able to make the link between the riot at the Kensington Oval some years ago and the near-rabid debate in Barbadian society over the relocation of the statue of Lord Nelson and its replacement with the busts of the country’s national heroes, raging at the same time.
If we believe that the crowd was merely being partisan, anxious not to see the dismissal of the Barbadian opening batsman on the West Indies team, Sherwin Campbell, then we are being naïve.
We should also recall the spat over the award of contracts for the construction of highways in Barbados and the comments made about then politician, Don Blackman.
Jamaican society is still viewed with much scepticism in respect of the colour schemes and the attendant access to or denial of privileges of peoples of the different colour schemes identified by MG Smith several years ago.
Societies may have changed and new generations may want to distance themselves from the sins of their predecessors. However, the advances made by people of the darker hue have not always been readily accepted globally. It is perhaps the main reason that we have some of the most unsavoury comments being made on political platforms and other spheres of national life. Some seem to think that because so many among us wish to escape the legacy of the era of colonisation, conquest and slavery that we must all ignore the racism evident in some comments and acts of others in our respective societies.
While we get so much information about racism in sport at the international level perhaps we may do well to reflect on the extent to which racism remains very much alive and well in our midst in sport and in society more generally.