Updated: June 29, 2021 7:31:08 am
Few sportspersons have been as eloquent as cricket legend Michael Holding in critiquing racism in sports. Speaking at the “Idea Exchange” hosted by this newspaper on Sunday, Holding pointed out that racism in sports is systemic and institutionalised and that educating people about it is the only way to eliminate it. Sport reflects social prejudices but sporting icons can also influence perceptions and attitudes. Hence, it is important, and heartening, when an icon like Holding, influenced by movements such as Black Lives Matter, decides to bat for a world that rejects discrimination of all kinds. His attack on racism has been as precise and lethal as his deliveries in his heyday as the lead fast bowler of the power-packed all-conquering West Indies side of the 1970s and ’80s.
Holding’s new book, Why We Kneel, How We Rise, talks specifically about the violence and exclusion faced by blacks, and the message extends beyond the arena of sports. An illustrious predecessor from the West Indies, C L R James, wrote about cricket and politics with equal felicity and saw them as part of the same revolutionary continuum: James spoke about the cricket of Gary Sobers with the same passion he reserved for the “black Jacobins” who organised the Haitian rebellion in the 18th century. Experiences of discrimination and resistance had to be remembered and recorded; stories told and retold so that history is memorialised and lessons learned. Holding, for instance, has chosen to narrate less glamorous stories about sporting celebrities — the loneliness of a Makhaya Ntini as a coloured player in the post-apartheid South African cricket team, French footballer Thierry Henry’s stinging comment that few black footballers make the coach grade in Europe, among others. These are disturbing stories that make for uncomfortable reading, but they have to be repeated to a world that prefers to hide warts and wounds behind the glitz of commerce, the weight of tradition, and the newspeak of merit.
The tradition of educating the masses to reject unequal and discriminatory social systems by producing books has a storied history. In modern times in India, Mahatma Phule, Sree Narayana Guru, Babasaheb Ambedkar, Periyar EV Ramaswami saw education as key to social emancipation and created a corpus of works that continue to inspire social and political change. New libraries of Dalit experiences have emerged in Indian languages, which call out the inhumanity of the caste system. The fight against systemic and institutionalised forms of inequality has not ceased, but more solidarity would help take it further. India’s sporting icons could take a leaf out of Holding’s book.
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