Racism in sport. OK, nothing new, I’ll admit it. However, is it really on the rise as media reports say? Or, has it always just been there, a part of the fabric of barbaric and pugilistic excuses for competition, and only now, are we actually seeing more reports of it?
Let me ask you a question: If not for the commercial interests invested in the NRL and the AFL, would racist comments from their so-called stars really be a problem amongst the administration?
Now don’t get me wrong, these aren’t the only two sports that have had their fair share of racial controversy. Anything from Tennis to Hockey to Association Football have had a slip of the tongue and spurred a feud every now and again. So, this is nothing new.
Racism in sport has always been there. In Australia, for some strange reason, it’s actually tolerated at some levels. Last year I spent the better part of my weekends training and coaching an under 16’s football club from the southern suburbs. This was a fairly multi-ethnic team. We had players who had only been in the country a few years, some who had been here their whole lives, nonetheless, they were all of different backgrounds. A wonderful and great example of a club representing the world game.
Training was fairly straight-forward, no problems amongst the players, they all got along quite well and, most of them went to school together.
So we had players who had heritage in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Lebanon, the Philippines, Italy, Chile, the list goes on.
Our first match was against another equally diverse team, mostly made up of young men from a number of African nations. No problems experienced apart from our two South African players whom had a problem with two of their opponents who continually spoke Swahili. I told them to get over it as they had been speaking their own native language in scratch matches at training as a way to fool their teammates.
This was fine. We were hammered 9-0 but apart from that, it was fine.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and we face our fiercest opposition of the season so far. A team made up entirely of young white, anglo-saxon men. They were all class; great passing, good movement off the ball, excellently timed tackles and some brilliant shots on goal.
They were all class in their game, but in social behaviour, they lost many points.
All it took for my main striker, a 16 year old boy of Lebanese background, to attempt to strangle one of his opponents, was a snide remark, not heard by myself, but a number of players close by, a linesman and a few spectators.
I won’t repeat that remark here but I can tell you that it referred to this boy’s cultural background.
The comment was not heard by the referee, but the attempted strangulation was.
Now I am not an advocate of violence in any form and I do not believe that it is justified. Yet, I could easily understand the frustration that this boy was feeling in that he was not being supported fairly by the referee for what should automatically be the sending off of the player making the hurtful comment.
It fell on deaf ears, the reason why he was provoked. A red card was shown, and he was on his way to the bench. No apology came from the player after the match, he denied everything. No apology came from the coach or other players, they didn’t see a problem.
This was only the first of many incidents that would occur similar to this over the season. The final one, a group attack on a couple of my African midfielders, resulted in a melee which cost half my team a 6 week suspension and the club was fined severely.
After all of the counseling my players had to go through at the club, racism was never mentioned once or brought up as a reason why these events happened.
‘Boys will be boys’, ‘They have to learn to control their anger’, ‘There’s no respect from them’.
These comments made me sick and I am glad I’m not coaching again this season. As if the players didn’t already feel bad enough. For crying out loud, they were only in their teens and they’re being made to deal with this on the football pitch? They HAVE EVERY RIGHT TO ENJOY HEALTHY COMPETITION AS MUCH AS ANYONE!
This is what brings me to my next point: The culture of national sport.
With the recent resignation from state of origin by Timana Tahu, an Australian league player with Fijian heritage, over comments made by so-called league legend, Andrew Johns, this has brought the issue of racism in sport back to the forefront. Yet, it should always have been there. This problem is not going to get better, and there is a reason why Johns made those comments. The culture of our national sports is so mixed in with racial tension and the attitude that it’s ‘OK’ to have a laugh about the colour of someone’s skin or culture or religion or ethnicity.
Comments in the past by AFL figures as well have been given the spotlight, only to have it taken away because the governing body says they do not accept or agree with that line of though – yet nothing is ever done to solve the problem. Yes, a fine or a banishment or a slaughtering by the media is given to the offending individual, yet what is ever done to, excuse the pun, tackle this problem and rid the sport of it.
Perhaps it is because our nation prides itself on the ability to see the humour in things, including a persons ethnicity. Indigenous Australians have dealt with a range of terms people use in which to refer to them. So do those who have come from South-East Asia, Africa, the Pacific Islands, New Zealand and Southern Europe.
There is no stopping the habit, when it is so far ingrained into the culture of a nation. The bogan mentality, as I like to call it (see a number of previous posts) is that it is a privilege to have white skin and an anglo-saxon surname. It is a privilege to be born in this country. It is a privilege to have the ability to be in a workplace, play a sport or simply walk down the street and not have to be called an offensive nickname.
This privilege, that these offensive people apparently think they have, should be non-existent in a democratic society. However, seeing as Australia still WILL NOT sign a formal charter of human rights and end the racial profiling and desecration of human rights in the Northern Territory, it is no wonder we are still in the same position we have always been. It is a trickle down of social behaviour, from the top of an inactive and unsympathetic government, right down to those bottom-feeder redneck bogans who deliver the message to anyone different to them that this is their country, get out.
At no point does any one person deserve to have their right to enjoy life in this country taken away. This includes playing sport.