Hallo Negro!by Nick Pawson / 23.02.2012
South Africa has long held the monopoly on racism, but now the rest of the world seems to have caught the racism bug. From black British MP’s tweeting prejudiced remarks about whites, to Scandinavian extremists going on killing sprees in a twisted protest against Islamic immigration. But it’s two incidents in English football that have been hogging all the headlines of late – and where better to watch racism than live, and in HD.
There’s no worse branding in the world of sport than the taint of racism. Once you’re involved in any kind of racial altercation, you carry that sign of the devil to your grave. It’s like being a leper, except these days you don’t get shipped off to a colony – you continue to live and play amongst us.
Chelsea, and former England skipper, John Terry’s alleged racial slur – directed at QPR’s Anton Ferdinand – has been disputed in court, with the trial now adjourned until a week after the EURO 2012 final. So at some stage, Terry is going to have to sing “God Save The Queen” alongside England teammate Rio Ferdinand (Anton’s brother) before the case is resolved. Not awkward at all.
Is it just pure coincidence then, that the Chelsea defender is about to take a two-month hiatus from football to undergo surgery for an “ongoing knee problem”, just a week before England’s friendly against Holland?
Luis Suarez on the other hand, had a perfect opportunity to clear his name (somewhat) when Man United defender Patrice Evra reached out the olive branch two weekends ago – but the Liverpool striker refused to shake his hand. Ironically, Suarez’s hand wasn’t as forthcoming as it was against his Ghanaian opponents during the 2010 World Cup quarter-final. Suarez denies racially abusing Evra, and insists his Spanish variation of the N-word is not deemed offensive in South America. Terry, meanwhile, said his comments were taken out of context.
So let me get this straight – it’s okay to drop the N-bomb, the B-bomb, or in our case the K-bomb, on the field of play, as long as you’re speaking in generalities? I didn’t realise sportsmen had time to study semantics.
God knows South Africa has had its fair share of racial malarkey on the sports field. I believe we’ve come a long way since the days when Afrikaner Geo Cronje refused to share a room with his coloured Springbok teammate, Quinton Davids. Most of our ‘racism’ these days seems to be directed at sports administrators for slow transformation, or coaches/ selectors for fielding a team that is not representative of the country’s demographics.
Luis Suarez comes from a country (Uruguay) that has a black population of 4%. Geo Cronje comes from a country that is just over 4% white. Yet in both cases, it’s whites hating on blacks. There are still flare-ups in the heat of play however, and as recent as 2011, prop Brian Mujati was called a “baboon” at scrum-time by Steven Sykes and Heinke van der Merwe during a Euro rugby pre-season game between Northampton Saints and Leinster. Sykes – a ‘Soutie’, Van Der Merwe – a ‘Dutchman’, and Mujati – a ‘Zimbo’. I’m trying to stereotype here, but it’s futile. I don’t have a theory. But I do have a point.
And the point is, racism is still alive and well in sport – a medium that has been hailed for its ability to break down racial barriers – and it needs to end.
Perhaps the prejudice stems from an insecurity, since non-white athletes are starting to dominate just about every sporting code ‘invented’ by whites. Chris Rock reckons it’s only a matter of time before the top ice hockey players are black, because they can hit the puck with their dicks.
At least the sanctions for racism are fairly harsh. Terry has been stripped of his England captaincy pre-verdict, and faces a potential fine. The repercussions can be dramatic too. Fabio Capello has since resigned as England manager due to the FA’s handling of the matter. But does it change the way players feel about their opposite number? Not really – they’ll just learn to keep their mouths shut. And at least, in that silence, sport won’t be viewed by the public, desperate for some kind of affirmation, as a reinforcement of racist attitudes.
And back in the good republic, we need to move away from pulling the race card as a basic recourse when players are snubbed purely based on merit – “Coach didn’t choose me, it must be cause I’m black/ white”.