Black Athletes Must Speak Out Against Injustices In Sport   By Cheryl Roberts

12 Aug


Having come through an era of being an oppressed black woman in sport and choosing to play sport for freedom, I have remained intrigued, alarmed and sometimes disgusted at how black (Africa, Coloured, Indian) people in sport in the post-apartheid era have remained quiet about glaring inequalities and injustices in South African sport.

The post-apartheid decades brought with it many voices and opinions but absent from these voices are those of black sports people who haven’t spoken out against a sports network designed to strangle their participation at the elite level in sport, particularly in sports such as swimming, cricket, netball, rugby and golf and many other white controlled and dominated sports.

Take for instance sports such as cricket and rugby where people speak up for whites in these sports. The moment there’s talk of ‘transformation’ and of ‘quotas’, the voices are being heard, particularly in the media.  If you ever wanted to see ‘white privilege’ and ‘white priority’ and ‘white is merit’ being advanced, the proof is in white people’s response to the white cluttered Springbok team. The majority of white people don’t speak out against this white dominated team.

But where are the voices of black players and athletes? Why are you seemingly quiet?

We are aware of discontent and unhappiness over the years about how unequal the elite terrain presents itself to talent black players, how these players and athletes have to prove themselves many more times than white athletes and players, how much more chances and opportunities are awarded to white players and so many few chances are given to black players.

Several sports federations gag their players, prevent them from ‘speaking to the media’, without permission from the officialdom of the sports federation. Seemingly, black players want to speak out and be heard, they want to make known how they feel about unequal and unjust selection but area afraid to be public in case they get suspended or banned from the sport.

Despite a ‘new era’ for the post-apartheid South African society, the sports paradigm has had to be fiercely contested, challenged and attacked. Some sport activists, most of them from the anti-apartheid sports struggle years, have refused to be silent and have called out democratic South Africa’s u just sports network, particularly with reference to white domination of representation and selection.

However, black voices of coaches and players and athletes are almost absent. Sometimes, its years after their retirement that they speak out, like Chester Williams about the racism experienced.

And then you get the white players who consistently get their opinions across and out there, who speak up for white player representation. Given this account over the years, I’m believing that black athletes and players are quietly accepting the unjust and unequal in SA sport. They don’t speak out enough; sometimes we are hearing a few voices here and there. Take a player like Breyton Paulse who never called for black rugby players to be noticed for their prowess and talent. Similarly, SA Test cricket captain, Hashim Amla doesn’t speak out against racial and gender inequalities in sport. Fast bowler Makhaya Ntini wasn’t bold and fierce to call out discrimination meted out to black cricketers.

When Vernon Philander got ‘blamed’ by AB de Villiers for SA’s semifinal cricket world cup defeat, the black cricketers were quiet; they didn’t speak out whilst the white saviours of white cricket players were roasting the players not white and blaming them for the defeat.

Black sports people, that is the athletes and players have got to understand and know that sport is not divorced from society, although corporate and capitalist control of sport would have you believing that sport is only about a sports match and playing the game.

How a black athlete is recognised and achieves in sport is directly related to who is in control. Black and oppressed people in sport spoke out against the horrendous apartheid system and blacks fought a sports struggle for freedom in SA.

Today, in post-apartheid apartheid, democratic South Africa, black athletes and players must find their voice and speak out against injustices in sport and society. If they are not going to speak out, then they will be seen as being comfortable, concerned only about their personal selves. Black strength is powerful and black athletes and players must reign in their power or else face the power of white privilege strangulation.

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