Racism and racial prejudice are vicious negatives in society. We must call out racism in sport because racial taunts and abuse in football particularly and sport at large, are scaling alarming trends. Reality is telling us that racism, racial abuse and color prejudice is gaining ground in sport the world over.
Some football matches played in Europe the past week detail evidence of racial abuse meted out by racist fans/supporters of teams. These racist moments occurred in Italy in the match between AC Milan and Roma and in Turkey where some of the world’s best black players, featured in league matches.
These are the high profile matches where racist taunts and abuse have been documented. There would also be other football matches around the world where racism would have occurred, but are not known publicly. Racism is alive and thriving in sport the world over. This has been recognised by powerful sports bodies such as FIFA who are trying to address the challenge in football with their ‘no racism in football’ campaigns.
Racial abuse and taunts also occur within South African sport. It happens at all levels of sport, particularly in football, rugby and cricket and in school sport. Several professional and international players talk about the racism and prejudice they felt, and in some cases were victims of, when they write their biographies. Most go thru their years in sport, never talking publicly about racism in their sport.
The racism we see happening at football matches in Europe is not new. Legendary football club, Liverpool has a history of being racist. For many seasons, Liverpool would not buy or field a black footballer. The Liverpool fan base was racist and got used to Liverpool being a club for ‘European white-skinned’ players, but not for any black player. It was an historic and momentous occasion when, about 25 years ago, Liverpool signed black footballer, John Barnes. Such was the racism executed by the football supporters in the Liverpool constituency, that they would react by calling John Barnes ‘Nigger Barnes’ and they would throw bananas onto the field which meant they (the racist fans) saw John Barnes as a ‘monkey’ first, before they saw him as a footballer. However, as the football was played and John Barnes scored and created goals, the racist fans were forced to accept John Barnes as a footballer, because the player became a vital asset to the team.
Over the past decades, great black sportspeople have faced much discrimination because they are black. The crusade of black sportspeople is not isolated; it’s the same story of highly-achieving dark-skinned people from all developing and colonized countries and their struggle to achieve the highest position or accolade.
Black athletes, being victims of racial abuse and injustices, have over the decades used their sporting prowess to challenge injustices and to advance human rights campaigns. Crusades of legendary athlete Jesse Owens, boxer Muhammed Ali and of course, the forty years ago black power salute by athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the Mexico Olympics, had pivotal impacts on black pride and courage and were significant in advancing campaigns against racial discrimination.
But how much racism persists in sport the world over and have negative perceptions and mindsets really changed significantly or been erased?
I am of the opinion that blacks have to really perform much, much more to be judged suitable for a position. And when a black person is appointed there are many who are thick-skinned enough to think they will fail precisely because they are black and inferior when it comes to mental acumen.
It took decades of struggle within FIFA for world football to judge Africa on its merits and not on its dark-skinned people. This came via FIFA’s decision to rotate the Football World Cups which effectively meant that Africa would be judged because of organizational ability, not because of perceptions of it being a backward, uninformed continent. Although South Africa has been awarded the right to host the 2110 World Cup Finals, perceptions persisted about our negatives, instead of our abilities and positives. Ask our world-class football official Danny Jordaan about the struggle to project Africa as a competent, efficient continent and he will tell you that it’s a long, hard struggle.
Various responses have been chosen by blacks how to respond to racism and injustices. There was Jesse Owens who gave the black power salute, Dutch footballer Rudd Gullit who chose to support the international anti-apartheid sports campaign and Venus and Serena Williams who do the protesting with their championship victories on the tennis court and demonstrate that black girls and women can be women tennis champions.
Similarly, the Indian cricket team’s tour of Australia, a few years ago, was rocked with controversy, allegations and racist insinuations. However, those who would normally be the victims of racial abuse in whatever form, the dark-skinned Indians in this instance, hit back. No more would they take racist insinuations and turn the other cheek. This would certainly have made proud proponents of black consciousness such as Steve Biko and Frantz Fanon.
So where does this leave us? Is racism being eliminated or is it on the increase. Racism seems to have a presence in sport the world over. Combating racism remains a huge challenge, but try we must. It’s imperative for black sports champions to use their sports prowess to fight racism, just like legendary athletes before them, to erase the negative perception blacks are faced with in sport, and to challenge mind-sets which continue to propagate supremacy because of skin colour.