The West Indies cricketing legend, Michael Holding, perhaps said it best when he layered the racism-in-sport debate with a larger comment on society. “It is the people from the society who go to these grounds and shout racist abuse. You have to tackle it from the society itself, not the sport,” he said. As the experience of a former West Indies captain, Darren Sammy, has brought out, those people from society can be team-mates. Often, the problem is casual racism, where the offender claims there is no malicious intent, and misses the point of the normalisation of racism. A kind of racism, as seen in Sammy’s case, where the recipient is only jolted to its real import, and hurt, years later.
The post-racial world is a myth and there is a long distance to cover to get there. Sport doesn’t exist in a vacuum and it’s not a surprise that it trips on this issue. When the black NFL player Colin Kaepernick kneeled in protest during the US national anthem, former US NFL legend Mike Ditka infamously claimed, “there has been no oppression in the last 100 years”. Though he clarified it later, the message that went out was of a refusal to accept the truth of racism.
Last week, former cricketer Yuvraj Singh apologised after making a casteist remark to refer to a team-mate. Yet, the controversy was short-lived, the BCCI didn’t find it necessary to step in, or to think through a protocol for players. This, once again, showed a casual approach to sensitive issues. Real change will require a willingness to look within, a determination to confront the problem.
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