Beyond racism


Beyond racism

Saturday, June 20, 2020

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Just a few weeks ago almost all sporting associations objected strenuously to teams and individuals making so-called political statements in any shape or form on the field of play.

We recall, in recent times, Mr Colin Kaepernick, the American football quarterback, finding himself without work because he dared to protest against racism in his country by choosing to kneel, rather than stand, during the playing of the US National Anthem.

Those of an older generation remember the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City when the American sprinters Messrs Tommie Smith and John Carlos, both black, earned the contempt, revulsion, and anger of the authorities in their country and much of the wider world for protesting against racist oppression.

Messrs Smith and Carlos, gold and bronze medallists in the 200-metre final, gave the Black Power salute on the medal podium as their country's anthem played black-gloved fists held high, dramatising the moment forever in pictures and minds.

Incredibly, they had the support of a white Australian, the silver medallist, Mr Peter Norman. He didn't do the iconic salute. Instead, he joined his fellow Olympic medallists by wearing a human rights badge over his heart.

Mr Norman victimised in appalling fashion in his own country for standing with Messrs Smith and Carlos wasn't acting out of whim or fancy. Socially conscious, he had long been troubled by racism and rampant injustice meted out to the black, native people of Australia, popularly referred to as Aborigines.

That historic podium protest in Mexico City ought not to be seen in isolation. It was a time of great turbulence as oppressed people the world over demanded change and justice.

In the United States, a turn to radicalism by black people seeking justice took on relevance with the assassination of the civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

In America, and in other parts of the world, young people took to the streets and university campuses to protest the oppressive role of the United States and its allies in the Vietnam War.

A year earlier, in 1967, the legendary Mr Muhammed Ali was stripped of his heavyweight boxing title because he refused to be drafted to the US military. For almost four years, Mr Ali was refused a boxing licence.

In Africa, the shackles of colonialism were falling apart as the people of that continent asserted their sovereign rights, and the industrialised world stirred uneasily in the face of the obvious inhumanity of apartheid in South Africa.

Yet, for all of that, sporting authorities largely held firm to the view that, even in the face of such extreme social injustice, athletes should not publicly protest.

In retrospect, though, it was all leading to this day, when sporting teams and individuals, with the support of administrators, are insisting in various ways that Black Lives Matter after the murder of a black man, Mr George Floyd, by a white policeman in the United States.

As Jamaicans say: “Every day bucket go a well, one day the bottom will drop out.”

However, it is important that all should recognise that this cannot be only about racism — be it violent or otherwise — but that people everywhere, especially the young, see it fit to stand against inequality, hunger, poverty, deprivation, and injustice of every sort.

Sportsmen and sportswomen should remain at the vanguard of that fight.

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