Racism still kicking and swinging in sports
Posted on November 13, 2011, Sunday
RACISM has no place in sports. This is an oft-repeated declaration by the governments of nations and their sports governing bodies. Yet, in the rough and tumble of world sports, the two things are often linked.
During the Berlin Olympics in 1936, Jesse Owens won four gold medals – a feat that stood nearly half a century and was only matched by Carl Lewis, another black track superstar, in the 1984 Los Angeles Games – and, in the process, debunked Hitler’s myth of “Aryan (White) Supremacy.”
The Nazi leader showed his utter contempt for Owens’ greatness by refusing to look him in the face when presenting the gold medals to the legendary Afro-American Olympian.
Owens was treated no better back in the US despite his history-making feats. President Roosevelt also kept him from the White House, fearing conservative voters would take offence to him being seen with a black athlete.
In football, racism seemed outdated until a couple of weeks ago. The scourge appears to have resurfaced with a vengence and, disturbingly, at the apex of the English Premier League.
The English FA is probing two separate allegations of racist abuses among EPL players.
First, in the match between Queen’s Park Rangers and Chelsea, John Terry, the England captain, allegedly made a racist remark against QPR defender Anton Ferdinand.
Terry is said to have shouted an racist expletive at Ferdinand but has denied the charge, insisting he had not said what the QPR player mistakenly thought he had heard that led to him lodging an official complaint.
Although the incident is still under investigation, Terry has the good fortune of being included in the England squad for the upcoming international friendlies, sparking criticisms that the FA does not have the guts to stand up to the Blues captain. Meanwhile, Ferninand has received a death threat through the mail.
Secondly, the week before, Patrice Evra claimed Luis Suárez constantly taunted him with racist remarks during Manchester United’s 1-1 draw with Liverpool. Suárez has denied the claim. To date, the altercation remains unresolved.
Generally, professional footballers – notwithstanding those in the EPL – are notorious for lying through their teeth to cover up their on-pitch wayward tendencies.
This is not altogether surprising since most of these pros have no formal education and as such, lack social grace – which probably explains why some of them are given to talking in an uncouth manner. Indeed, some of the things they say in the heat of a game are unprintable!
What makes it worse is that when these players transgress physically or verbally, they are backed to the hilt by their managers. Such unfettered support tends to reinforce the erring players’ sense of infallacy, however misplaced it may be.
And as usual, amidst all the accusations and denials, the hand-wringing FA is often reduced to the role of a toothless watchdog. How pathetic.
In golf, racism was seen during the 1997 Masters when US PGA golfer Frank ‘Fuzzy’ Zoeller made a comment about Tiger Woods that many people thought was racist. Zoeller was caught on tape referring to ‘that little boy’ – a remark he, not surprisingly, said was misconstrued.
In the latest incident, Steve Williams, one-time caddie of Tiger Woods, stunned the golfing world with a brazen racist insult against his former employer.
After receiving a prize at a caddies’ party, Williams blurted out: “It was my aim to shove it right up that black arsehole.”
By referring to the colour of Woods’ skin, Williams’ irrational outburst quickly became a contentious talking point at the function and inevitably found its way into the newspapers.
Williams has since – at the behest of his present employer Adam Scott – apologised for his hurtful comments, admitting they could be construed as racist.
The International Federation of PGA Tours had decided not to punish Williams, apart from saying it had considered his remarks “entirely unacceptable in whatever context” but was aware he had apologised fully and Woods had also accepted the apology when both men met at the Australian Open.
Still, Williams’ behaviour is highly damaging to the game that pays his wages. And why an official condemnation of his action was not immediately forthcoming has inevitably raised doubt over the Federation’s colour blindness in meting out justice.
Some commentators believe if a black caddie had said the same thing about a white golfer, the Federation would have been onto him like a Great White Shark. They want Williams sacked, saying his action should not go without censure.
With international sports taking on a diverse, multi-national and multi-cultural complexion, and society showing greater tolerance, racism in sports should be a non-factor nowadays. But is it?
Certainly, it’s still floating around and the sports power-that-be should take a tough stand and exercise strong political will to keep this societal blight at bay.