Racism In Sports: How Far Along Are We?

Achievement has no Colour”

  – Abraham Lincoln

Sports have always been considered the platform where enemies unite and people forget who they are and what background they belong to. Sitting in a pub with a mug full of beer on a match-day we forget the color, caste or religion one belongs to.  As MS Dhoni hit a magnificent six off Nuwan Kulasekhara’s ball in 2011 Cricket World Cup, every Indian’s heart skipped a beat as our victory was sealed. Or very recently, when Brazil was thrashed 7-1 by Germany in the 2014 FIFA Football world Cup every Brazil fan throughout the world applauded the Germans instead of creating riots against them or hating them. For times immemorial sports has been a way to bring countries closer, strengthen their ties with each other and a platform to at least try to maintain peace and harmony.

Let us take a road down our memory lanes to the Summer Olympics, 1936 held in Berlin, Germany.  History books claim Adolf Hitler, an ardent lover of sports and an even more ardent hater of Jews, declared that “neither Americans nor the representatives of other countries can take part in the Games in Nazi Germany without at least acquiescing in the contempt of the Nazis for fair play and their sordid exploitation of the Games.” According to him “fair play” meant that only players of “Aryan race” should be eligible to participate.

To this many countries threatened to boycott the games, some like Soviet Union and Spain forfeited their participation while some just caved in to the orders of the most feared leader mankind had ever witnessed. During the games many infamous incidents of racism took place. Hitler even called for a re- match after Austria lost 4-2 against Peru to which Peruvian contingent withdrew their participation from the games. Hitler’s biggest blow came when African- American Jesse Owens won his first of the four gold medals in Athletics. The man who was caught between his conquests to further promote his ideological belief of racial supremacy, stormed out of the stadium after being humiliated by a black man.

78 years since, it is dismal to contemplate that not much has changed. Earlier this year, celebrated Barcelona FC defender Dani Alvez got targeted into racism when someone threw a banana in front of him while he was going to attempt a corner kick. Dani’s reaction fetched him a widespread applause as he picked the banana up, ate it and took the corner with mouth full of the fruit. It is almost hilarious to see that where in the beginning of a football match the captains shake hands and narrate their “say no to racism” or wear black arm bands, players like Luiz Suarez do not consider it worthy to shake hands with Patrice Evra of Manchester United as he is dark- skinned. So why does Mr. Sepp Blatter, FIFA President, not understand that narrating a few dictum of racism does not put an end to the crime of racism.

If you thought that racism is not prevalent in the sport of Cricket, which is more of a religion in India, then please remember the time when our very own Harbhajan Singh slurred racial abuse on Andrew Symonds of Australia in 2007. Sir Vivian Richards claims that he usually practiced, what is knows as ‘sledging’ to over power the confidence his opponent.[1] ‘Sledging’ in cricket is whereby players seek to gain advantage on their opponents by making abusive remarks. This is a practice, which has been carried out in many different forms and has not always been penalized well.

Legislations Around the World

Many countries such as Australia, South Africa and Bolivia, to name a few, have legislation against racial discrimination at work places, or at public places but most of them clearly steer away from racism in sports at national or international level. South Africa is a classic example of a country that fought against racism in the form of freedom struggle. The Anti- Apartheid movement had an impact across the globe and as a result of South Africa being under apartheid, many countries boycotted South Africa’s participation from almost every sporting event and the United Nations General Assembly passed the International Convention Against Apartheid in Sports. But today the debate is still on whether South African rugby is racist or not?[2]

Talking about United States of America, there is a new incident of racism almost every other month in basketball, baseball and American football. India is much worse, as it does not have any legislation against racism at all but has adopted many international conventions such as the International Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. United Kingdom is one of the very few countries to have passed the ‘Football Offences Act, 1991’ which lays down the penalties against the acts of racism on the field.

Changing Colours

Most of us would agree that captains narrating a few lines of anti- racism off a piece of paper is not a cure to this disease. What we probably need is a collaboration of official sporting authorities with countries to come up with legislations passed by the respective parliaments.

For example, the Union of European Football Association (UEFA) could collaborate with the Government of England and introduce a new legislation looking in to the matters related to racism on and off the football field by the players. Secondly, the authorities should continue their practice of handing over sever match bans along with economic penalties. For instance, Harbhajan Singh was banned for three test matches along with 50% match fee getting slashed. Similarly, Luis Suarez was given an 8 match ban and was fined $67, 000 (approximately). Thirdly, punish the fans as well. In the semi finals match against Bayern Munich, Real Madrid fans displayed a banner with the Nazi symbol instead of a ‘Say No to Racism’ banner. To this the UEFA fined all the 4 fans with Euro 3500 and Real Madrid with Euro 10,000 alongwith partial closure of their stadium Santiago Bernabeu. Lastly, wake up media. How often do we see anti- racist advertisements on our television sets in India? Answer is very rarely. Media is much more active in European countries on such matters and India should take a hint.

It is not about racism in sports. It is about the actions of the players that have an influence on the people. These players and teams are often ideal images for a lot of people. Children want to drink ‘Boost’ because Sachin Tendulkar promoted it. Similarly, we would take a stand against racism if our idols ask us not to as there is some kind of testimony that fans would try to act like their idols. Thus, every time a player like Kevin Prince Boateng leaves the field in the middle of a game because of racism, we would know its wrong. Or, every time a player like Harbhajan Singh is fined, we would know that racism might not just lose us the match but also we might lose the fight against humanity.

About the Author

Tarang- ImageTarang Nagar

A student of Symbiosis Law School, Noida she has an aptitude for public speaking and likes reading. She has an inclination towards International Law, affairs and economics. When she manages to get spare time she is daydreaming about travelling all over the world.  She is a big novel and movie buff. She has a special interest in taxation law and wants to pursue the same in the future.




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