Athletes right to speak out on equality

Athletes right to speak out on equality

Afternoon all. While competitive sport is slowly making its return around, there is still not much going on during the week. As I write, Bayer Leverkusen are taking on fourth-tier side Saarbrucken in the German Cup semifinals, while snooker’s Championship League is approaching its eagerly anticipated conclusion (cough, cough) in Milton Keynes. I long to watch live sport again, but not quite enough to give up my afternoon to scour the internet to find a stream broadcasting a surely one-sided football match featuring two teams that mean nothing to me.

So with not much going on around the world from a sporting perspective, the fall-out from last week’s Black Lives Matter protests continues to dominate the headlines. Athletes from all corners of the sporting universe have been speaking out about the need to this problem head-on, and I have to say it has been really encouraging and pleasing to see. These individuals, just like musicians, politicians and film stars, have a powerful platform from which they can reach thousands – in some cases millions – of mostly young followers. They have the tools to become influential voices for change, and to my mind it is absolutely right that they take this opportunity.

Of course, this is not the first time athletes have come together to fight injustice. The sporting community has a long tradition of taking a stand on discrimination. You think of Jesse Owens, the black American sprinter, claiming four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics in the face of Nazi minority oppression. Or Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising the Black Power salute during the Star-Spangled Banner at the Mexico City games 32 years later. Or the victorious French football team of 1998, consisting of mainly black or Arabic players, uniting a fractured country that was creaking under the weight of racial division. Or, more recently, Colin Kaepernick’s knee. This sector of society is clearly not afraid to make a point.

But while Owens or Smith were isolated events, this time there appears to be a more concerted effort from sports stars across the board to make their voices heard and their views known. After the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month, footballers including Micah Richards and Tyrone Mings have spoken out. Raheem Sterling, who has often carried the torch for the fight in the UK, highlighted the need for more managers of minority ethnic origin to be given job opportunities at the highest level.

And its not just football. Referring to the destruction of the slave trader statue in Bristol, Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton has called on governments to “implement the peaceful removal of these racist symbols” after previously expressing his “rage” following the events in the US.

Tennis player Francis Tiafoe, meanwhile, has spoken of how he feels like an “outsider” in the predominantly white surroundings of the ATP, encouraging his fellow professionals to tackle the issue head-on.

And England rugby star Maro Itoje welcomed the frank, open discussion that is being had about racial prejudice. “We have all been socially conditioned from the day we left our mother’s womb, whether it is by television, the books you read or what you consume socially and culturally,” he said on the BBC’s Rugby Union Weekly podcast. “We just want society to fair and balanced, with equal opportunity for all.”

Of course, I am not for a second trying to paint the sporting world as some kind of post-racial paradise where discrimination does not exist. A matchday trip to pretty much any football ground in the UK makes it abundantly clear that racism, along with sexism and homophobia, are sadly still firmly part of the culture, as they are across society as a whole.

But I am encouraged by what is going on. In the past, anti-racism protests would have grabbed the sporting headlines for a few days at most. We are still talking about this almost three weeks on from Mr. Floyd’s murder on May 25th. The sporting void created by coronavirus clearly has a role to play in this – there is surely a bit of space-filling going on here – but that nevertheless suggests to me that progress is being made.

Finally for today, I just wanted to stress that this website is not meant to be a political outlet of any kind. Just as the aforementioned athletes would rather be playing sport, I would much rather be writing about great goals and thrilling tie-breaks. But the situation is what it is right now. If we are going to bring about positive change, it will start with education and honest discussion. This is a conversation that needs to be had.

Right, that’s all for today. See you on Friday with another Top 5.