One of the worst things about this racism is how predictable it continues to be. Racism has long been found in European and South American sports and is intensified when players of colour are put in the spotlight during major international competitions. A tweet in response to the harassment captures this phenomenon: “When you score, you’re English. When you miss, you’re an immigrant," the Conversation stated.
In the penalty shoot-out that saw Italy defeat England in the UEFA Euro 2020 final, the skill of the goalkeepers was overshadowed by the perceived failure of the English players who missed their shots. Three young players – Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka – were subjected to torrents of anti-black racist abuse. There has been so much talk about racism and how it needs to be severely dealt with.
It wasn’t only English players who experienced such treatment during the tournament. French player Kylian Mbappé faced online abuse when Swiss goalie Yann Somer successfully defended his penalty in the second-round clash that sent les bleus home. Racist abuse resurfaces constantly.
Fast forward to May 2023 and one Google search on "Vinícius Júnior" and you can get a fair idea of how far we've failed to reach. Pep Guardiola subsequently said: "The problem is that there is racism everywhere. Not just for gender but for colour, for attitudes. We believe that our language is better than the other one, and our country is better than the other one. We need to accept diversity as a strength, like a human being, and still right now, we are far away from that. Hopefully, it can be one step to getting better in Spain, but I'm not optimistic. I know a little bit about the country and I'm not really optimistic. There are a lot of Black people stepping forward to defend what they should not [have to] defend. Hopefully, justice can help to do it, but at the same time, is it going to change anything in Spain?"
Like him, I also do not believe that much is going to change. Last week Valencia's punishment following the racist abuse of the Real Madrid forward was reduced on appeal. The partial closure of the club's Mestalla Stadium has been reduced from five to three matches. And their fine has been cut from 45,000 euros to 27,000 euros (£23,400) after the Spanish Football Federation appeal committee said it had decided to "partially uphold" Valencia's appeal. So what does this tell you? That those in charge and with the ability to force real change are prepared to reduce the punishment. To me, what this results in are persons who inflict racism and pain will have a real fear of consequences the next time they decide to act. It's similar to a criminal committing a crime. He does it with full intent believing that not much punishment, if any at all will follow.
The massive increase in the visibility and popularity of sports over the past century, thanks to television, radio and the internet, has intensified the way that fans relate to players as local and national representatives. Athletes become the face of a nation, and many of us pin patriotic hopes, fears and frustrations on them.
When visibly diverse teams win world cups, it is seen as an anti-racist triumph. It is one reason South Africa’s win in the 1995 rugby world cup was so symbolic, coming so soon after the collapse of apartheid. The French men’s football team inspired waves of pride in French multiculturalism after their 1998 and 2018 wins. This was symbolised in the slogan Black-Blanc-Beur (Black-White-North African) – a riff on bleu-blanc-rouge (blue, white and red) the colours of the French flag.
When fans engage in racist abuse, they are targeting players because they are seen as “not belonging”. Perhaps rejecting them feels safer than rejecting people who share an imaginary “genuine” white national identity, and strengthens a sense of superiority.
Racism and discrimination have existed in our region but notably not as much as in other parts. But the fact is, it exists. At the end of a 2010 World Cup qualifier in San Salvador against El Salvador, the Trinidad and Tobago members were subjected to racial slurs while walking off the pitch following a 2-2 draw. The T&T locker room was situated where the upper region of a wall had just lattice covering. This was evident to the home fans in a public space on the other side of the wall. Lines such as "You Blip, Blip". You suck. Get out of here" along with monkey chants went on for at least ten minutes after the match. There were similar slurs as well as bags of urine directed towards the contingent as we neared the locker room following a 2-1 win over Guatemala in a 2018 World Cup qualifier in Guatemala City.
The 0-0 draw with Mexico at the 2021 Gold Cup was not incident free with online abuse and threats to Alvin Jones and Marvin Phillip following for days after the match.
We know that incidents like this can go unreported and when we look at the sports ecosystem, they only scratch the surface. These incidents not only highlight the scale of abuse and discrimination faced by individuals within the sport, but they also serve as a constant reminder of the work that is still to be done.
Dress codes and uniforms make room to turn a lot of “isms” into policies since typical standards of professional dress and sports uniforms are, at the core built around, racist, sexist, and classist views, according to a report in inclusiveemployers.co.uk.
We saw FINA banning swimming caps designed for afro hair to be worn at international competitions – such as the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Soul caps are swimming hats designed for the Black community. Afro hair is naturally drier than other hair because it has fewer cell layers. The chemicals found in swimming pools can dry it out more, leading to damage. Having a uniform and mandatory dress that is designed in a specific way, can be a huge barrier but the reality is that the historical and ongoing lack of diversity across the sector means that barriers such as these will continue to emerge if we cannot find a way to bring in the experience and insight required as we design products, programmes, policies and strategies.
Professionalism as a Racial Construct can manifest itself in different ways including areas such as pay and promotion.
A study conducted by Northwestern University concluded that white applicants received 36% more callbacks for jobs than equally qualified applicants with Black-sounding names. People with classically South Asian and East Asian names were 28% less likely to get called for an interview than their white counterparts. In the United Kingdom, a person named Adam was offered three times as many interviews as someone named Mohammed. Before Black and Brown communities can even think about applying for a role, there is the risk that unconscious bias may put individuals at a significant disadvantage. It is not uncommon for applicants to fake a name on job applications to almost cancel out biases or racial stereotyping.
Black athletes are usually given credit for their “natural athleticism,” while white athletes are credited for their “hard work,” “discipline” and “knowledge of a game”. Black athletes are usually given credit for their “natural athleticism,” while white athletes are credited for their “hard work,” “discipline” and “knowledge of a game”.
These sports stereotypes can also have an impact on people gaining sports roles. Most employers are not concerned with an employee’s natural athletic abilities, however, stereotypes of being ‘athletically superior’ for the most part could begin to explain why Black and Brown communities are overrepresented in sports security roles.
When stereotypes begin to insinuate that certain races have certain characteristics, whether they be positive or negative, they fall into the same racist generalisations that are at the root of racism and race-based discrimination.
Associate professor Cynthia Frisby published a study examining the media depictions of Black male athletes, where she found, after analysing a decade’s worth of news clippings, that black male athletes receive “significantly more negative coverage” in the form of hard news stories about domestic and sexual violence; whereas their white counterparts are the hero protagonists of feature stories that lay bare the shades of their humanity. Clearly, words matter. Words hurt. And yet there are few if any, consequences for bigoted language.
Shaun Fuentes is the head of TTFA Media. He was a FIFA Media Officer at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa and the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey. The views expressed are solely his and not a representation of any organisation. email@example.com