Racism And Sports Essay

Racism And Discrimination In Sports Essay

      Dealing with the issue of sport and ethnology, three major factors come to mind; prejudice, racism, and discrimination. These factors span across gender, ethnic, racial, religious, and cultural groups. In the following paragraphs, I will discuss how these factors have played a part in the evolution of sport in our society. The first issue tackled in this paper will be racism in sports, followed by prejudice and discrimination.

     ?A definition of race might rely on an outward manifestation such as color or some other physiological sign. Race and ethnicity (and to some degree nationality) also imply a shared socio-cultural heritage and belief system. Finally, race and ethnicity harbor a physiological self-identification. Indeed, this factor is perhaps the most important in defining the identity of an ?ethnic? or ?racial? individual. It implies a conscious desire on the part of a person to belong to an aggregate of people, which possesses unique cultural characteristics, rituals and manners and a unique value system.

     North America is, and always has been, an ethnically diverse society. Yet this cultural diversity along religious, ethnic and national lines had been tolerated only in a limited degree, end even only on the dominant Anglo-Saxon elite?s terms.? (Eisen and Wiggins, 1994, p. xii). History books repeatedly show this in their pages. A person can not pick up a history book and read through the pages with out finding something on how a particular athlete or group of athletes were persecuted because of their race. Part of the American dream that is taught to our youth of is freedom, equality and the ability to move ahead in life if a person is motivated to do so. It is unfortunate that this isn?t the case; that is unless the person fits into the right sociological group.

     For instance, ?The American Dream of unlimited possibilities was shattered for black athletes. By 1900 most of them had successfully been excluded from American sport and were forced to establish their own separate sporting organizations. The most famous of these were the black baseball leagues, a loose aggregate of teams that did not achieve much organizational structure until Rube Foster founded the National Negro Baseball League in 1920. Late nineteenth-century black athletes were often disturbed by their inability to be classified by anything other than race. They recognized the symbolic importance of their triumphs to the black community, but wanted to be acknowledged as outstanding athletes rather then simply outstanding black athletes.? (Eisen and Wiggins, 1994, pp 137-138) For blacks being distinguished in this manor was demeaning to them; as well as it should be. One of their ways of protesting against this came at the XIX Olympiad.

     During these games black American athletes decided to protest against social injustice. Athletes such as Jim Hines, Tommie Smith, John Carlos?and other black Americans decided to...

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In the 1970s and 1980s, black footballers in England and Scotland were all too frequently subjected to racist abuse. It was not uncommon to see bananas thrown at players.

In mainland Europe, this deplorable act is still happening and in recent years bananas have been thrown at footballers, in obviously racist attacks, in countries such as Spain, Russia, Italy and Turkey. Even the National Hockey League in North America has not been immune to this behaviour.

After a similar incident in Saturday night’s AFL match between Port Adelaide and the Adelaide Crows, where a Port fan threw a banana at Adelaide player Eddie Betts (who is Indigenous), it seems Australia should now be added to this list.

Sport can be a driver for change; it can make a difference in people’s lives and unify communities, particularly around national successes. But it can also create tensions and cause conflict.

Following an earlier incident of racism in the AFL, where Sudanese-born player Majak Daw was abused from over the fence, Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane said racism:

… reduces another person to the status of being a second-class citizen. And it prevents individuals and communities from reaching their potential.

Around the world, sporting achievements are still “seen” in racialised terms. Success (and failure) is explained by of skin colour. The white skin of an athlete is rarely highlighted (and is largely invisible), whereas the skin colour of a black athlete is often identified as a determining factor of ability.

In Australian sport, “whiteness” is still the norm against which all others are measured, with athletes from different backgrounds classed as “others”. It serves as a site for the emphasis of notions of “difference”, often resulting in offensive and abusive behaviour by fans and other athletes.

What does racism in sport say about society?

This behaviour has often been written off as “banter” and accepted as part of sport. This acceptance is indicative of deeper societal issues.

Australian football has been tied to historical notions of Anglo-Celtic “Australianness” – and there is evidence that fans continue to adhere to these mythical views when deciding who is and is not “Australian”.

The AFL is attempting to widen the appeal of Australian football to non-traditional markets. It has recruited players from diverse ethnic backgrounds to act as multicultural ambassadors. These ambassadors have been drawn from Brazilian, Polynesian, African and Lebanese heritage, while Indigenous players have also been prominently featured in marketing material.

However, in recent years, Daw, Nic Naitanui, Adam Goodes, and Lance Franklin have all been subjected to racist abuse on multiple occasions.

The focus on the heritage of such players may actually be detrimental to their acceptance by traditional AFL fans due to the continued Anglocentric culture of Australia and Australian football. These players may be identified as “others” by Anglo-Celtic fans, and targeted for abuse.

Photographs used by the media and clubs often emphasise the players’ heritage, making them an “acceptable face” of a certain minority community, acting as a role model and potential hero for others, while simultaneously restricting their aspirations to playing sport – given there are few opportunities in coaching and management.

Racism is no longer tolerated in the AFL but racial assumptions of black inferiority continue to be made. As historian Colin Tatz has said, sport:

… has shown Aborigines and Islanders that using their bodies is still the one and only way they can compete on equal terms with an often hostile, certainly indifferent, mainstream society.

Losing sight of what is important

Sport generates extremes of passion, partisanship, and adoration.

Fans commit significant time, effort and money to following their team. They see opposition supporters and players as rivals or enemies. They will use various means to try to intimidate and belittle them, often using terms and behaviour that in other walks of life would be seen as unacceptable.

While banana-throwing is often an isolated act, the booing of Goodes took place on a much larger scale, with whole sections of stadiums joining in.

Through the process of deindividuation it is easy for spectators to lose all sense of “I” when they are part of a group. They join in with behaviour they would normally condemn, perhaps writing it off as part of the experience or believing what they are doing to be somehow “less real” because it happened at a sports match.

Room for hope?

Dani Alves, a Brazilian footballer who had a banana thrown at him in a racist attack in 2014, once claimed that the fight against racism in Spanish football is “a lost cause”. In Russia, Christopher Samba – another footballer to have bananas thrown at him – received a two-match ban for making an “unpleasant gesture” in response to racist abuse he received.

In contrast to these examples of societally accepted racism, there is hope for Australia. Recent incidents of racist abuse have been called out by those around the perpetrator and widely condemned. Last year, former Wallabies captain David Pocock became one of a small minority of players to challenge on-field abuse. His stance received a mixed reaction, with some parts criticising him for breaking a perceived code of silence.

Significantly, while Port Adelaide banned its banana-throwing fan, she was also invited to take part in the club’s Aboriginal cultural awareness programs, run by its Aboriginal players. Betts has supported this move, and educating offenders – and wider Australian society – as to why this behaviour is unacceptable and the impacts it has must be part of the solution.

It is hard to swim against the tide, but it is important that when fans witness abuse, even if it is widespread such as the booing of Goodes, they do more than just not join in. It may not be comfortable or easy to do, but such abuse needs to be challenged in sport and our society.

Players are increasingly taking a stand and not accepting racial (and other) abuse. Fans should follow their examples.

Keith Parry will be online for an Author Q&A between 1 and 2pm on Wednesday, 24 August, 2016. Post any questions you have in the comments below.

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