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sport's colour bar

By unknown | Jul 07, 2008 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Cheryl Roberts

Cheryl Roberts

Black athletes, being victims of racial abuse and injustices, have over the decades used their sporting prowess to challenge injustices and to advance human rights campaigns.

Crusades of legendary athlete Jesse Owens, boxer Muhammed Ali and of course, the black power salute by athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the Mexico Olympics forty years ago, had pivotal effects on black pride and courage and were significant in advancing campaigns against racial discrimination.

Decades on and into the 21st century black athletes are at the top of not only their game, but the game, in sports where they had no real participation let alone presence. Tiger Woods (golf), Venus and Serena Williams (tennis), Lewis Hamilton (motor racing) and world class rugby player Bryan Habana.

But how much racism persists in sport the world over and have negative perceptions and mind sets really changed significantly or been erased?

Paul Ince, the great England international player has just been appointed coach of Blackburn Rovers. So what's so important about that announcement, we may ask, football coaches come and go.

There is something about Ince's appointment in that he has not only become another Blackburn coach but the first ever British black player to be appointed coach of a premier league club in the FA.

Several opinions have been noted about Peter de Villiers' appointment as Springbok coach, the first black person to get this honour and coaching job. Some people ask what is the euphoria about. That's just it: this is a big deal because if more deserving blacks were appointed to the top echelons of all sports and the sports pyramid then we could agree that racism does not exist in sport.

I am of the opinion that blacks have to really perform much, much more to be judged suitable for a position. And when a black person is appointed there are many who are thick-skinned enough to think they will fail precisely because they are black and inferior when it comes to mental acumen.

Chris Rock, on his South African tour, alluded to this perception about blacks competing at the highest level of society when he said that Barrack Obama is not only black but he is qualified and black. Which begs the question: how much more qualified or experienced should a black player, coach or official be before they are elected or selected to the highest position on offer in their chosen sport?

It took decades of struggle within Fifa for world football to judge Africa on its merits, not on its dark-skinned people, and it came via Fifa's decision to rotate the football World Cups, which effectively meant that Africa would be judged because of organisational ability, not because of perceptions of it being a backward, uninformed continent.

Though South Africa has been awarded the right to host the 2010 World Cup finals, perceptions persist about our negatives instead of our abilities and positives. Ask our world-class football official Danny Jordaan about the struggle to project Africa as a competent, efficient continent and he will tell you that it's a long, hard struggle.

Of course the struggle for blacks to achieve highly in sport is not made easy when some blacks have inferior complexes to whites, for instance Charl Langeveldt, who felt he was being rated above a white cricketer.

Various responses have been chosen by blacks on how to respond to racism and injustices. There was Jesse Owens who won four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Tommie Smith and John Carlos who gave the black power salute at the 1968 Olympics, Dutch footballer Rudd Gullit who chose to support the international anti-apartheid sports campaign and Venus and Serena Williams who do the protesting with their championship victories on the tennis court and show that black girls and women can be tennis champions.

Look at the recently staged Indian Premier League, though I must admit I struggle to advance the idea of so much money made available to elite sportsmen, particularly in a country of so much poverty.

The cricket was enjoyable and at times breathtaking, but it was awesome to see a country like India, instead of Australia, England or the United States, displaying the ability and organisational finesse to stage a world sports event with massive global appeal.

Besides demonstrating the cricketing prowess of several men and patriotism of enthusiastic female and male fans, the ICL demonstrated that a "third world" developing country of dark skinned people could compete globally on the world stage.

Similarly, the Indian cricket team's recent tour of Australia was rocked by controversy, allegations and racist insinuations.

But in this instance, the dark-skinned Indians hit back.

This would certainly have made proponents of black consciousness such as Steve Biko and Frantz Fanon proud.

Racism is alive and kicking in sport the world over and this has been recognised by powerful sports bodies such as Fifa who are addressing the challenge head-on.

Great black sportspeople have faced much discrimination because they are black.

The crusade of black sportspeople is not isolated; it's the same story of highly achieving dark-skinned people from all developing and colonised countries and their struggle to achieve the highest position or accolade.

It's not difficult to figure out why black women throughout the world struggle to take part in and survive in sport, given their skin colour and deep-rooted socio-economic challenges.

There is no more better satisfaction for me than when a black woman achieves in world sport, like Australian aborigine Cathy Freeman .

It's imperative for elite black sportspeople to use their sports prowess to fight racism, just like legendary athletes before them.

lRoberts is a freelance writers and researcher based in Cape Town and writes in her individual capacity.


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