The trend of racism against Africans in sports
MTN-Qhubeka (featured in Ayiba’s Design Issue) is Africa’s first cycling team to participate in the Tour de France since 1950. The team made history by being the first African team to rise to the challenge. However, in a shocking display of racism, Eritrean rider and member of MTN-Qhubeka, Nathaniel Berhane, was allegedly subjected to racial slurs from Belarusian rider Branislau Samoilau. Samoilau apologized for the incident by paying a month’s salary to the Qhubeka charity that works towards providing 5,000 bicycles to children through the #BicyclesChangeLives campaign.
However, such incidents are quite common in the sports world. In 2014, NBA Clippers owner Donald Sterling came under fire for making racist comments to his then-girlfriend, V. Stiviano. While his comments were targeted at the African-American Magic Johnson, it is fair to assume that the abuse would be meant for African players as well.
African players have made great strides in the world of international sports, but even in sports that are dominated by Africans, such as long-distance running, athletes face criticism. There have been several allegations that Africans have an unfair biological advantage in sports, a claim that only serves to reinforce the perceived “otherness” of Africans. The same is true for the controversy surrounding Serena Williams’ historic sixth win at the Wimbledon championship. She now holds four grand slam titles and is undoubtedly the best women’s tennis player of all time. Despite this she has faced ridicule and abuse regarding her appearance. Critics argue that she is only capable of winning through brute force, and has even been likened to a ‘gorilla.’ However, this kind of barrage on appearance and performance is notably absent whenever the world talks about other female tennis players, such as Maria Sharapova.
So the question stands, how do we solve the issue of racism in sports? In doing so, it is important to analyze the situation from the top-down. Racism is often an institutional problem, that stems from xenophobia . Sports teams have, over the years, limited the number of African players (or players of African descent) involved in championships. Sports associations such as UEFA claim a zero-tolerance policy against racism in football, but the problem is still persistent.
Manchester City’s midfielder Yaya Toure has often called for tougher sanctions against racist fans and opponents, a sentiment shared by Ghanaian football player Kevin-Prince Boateng. In light of this, FIFA introduced its Anti-Discrimination Monitoring System that would ideally see offending parties banned from international competitions. Referees and umpires are also required to react when cases of racism on the field are seen.
Players must stand up against racism by lodging official complaints with the relevant bodies. Additionally, their scope and influence on fans is not to be underestimated. Minority and non-minority players alike should join ranks in fighting the problem, as it is a worrying trend. When players recognize this, they are able to protest peacefully during games or use social media to air their concerns, thereby raising the level of awareness against racism. The media must also be wary of perpetuating and encouraging the use of racial slurs during event coverage.
Lastly, fans must be held accountable by sports leagues for their actions. Lifelong bans have already been enacted on several racist fans in sports such as football, which is important considering that events such as the Commonwealth Games were created to encourage good sportsmanship and healthy competition. It is therefore clear, that the fight against racism cannot be only one person’s fight, but rather must utilize the combined forces of all involved in the sports world.