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Are sports stars doing enough to stand against racism?

PICTURED: Raheem Sterling

IN SEPTEMBER 2016, former NFL player Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the US national anthem before a game, which was against standard protocol. Instead he decided to kneel in protest against racial inequality and police brutality.

The protest gained worldwide exposure on the news and even prompted a response from the US President. But are sports stars doing enough to stand against racism in sport and in general?

Kaepernick’s actions had knock-on effects in the weeks that followed as his protest was mirrored by other sports men and women in America. But others were quick to criticise him and labelled his actions disrespectful to his nation’s flag.

Even though Kaepernick polarised opinion, the fact that he took action raised conversation about the injustices he intended to highlight in the first place.

Despite the above, it’s difficult to measure the exact impact sports stars have on racism - after all, it still exists. But what we can take from Kaepernick’s example is that sports stars have enormous platforms from which they can spark conversation and debate. They can also influence the governing bodies of their sports to strive for greater equality in their regulations.

When racist or prejudiced acts are publically condemned, society’s conscience is tapped into, perceptions are challenged, and over time, there can be slow but gradual shifts in attitudes.

On March 30 2019, the Premier League launched its ‘No Room for Racism’ campaign, with a goal – to promote inclusion and diversity in football and to oppose racism in the sport. Among other initiatives, the English Premier League will require club captains to wear ‘Kick it [racism] Out’ armbands for the two-week campaign.

During a football match in Italy between Cagliari and Juventus on April 2, Juventus player Mosie Kean was subjected to racist abuse from the stands. After scoring the second goal and winner for Juventus, Kean celebrated in front of Cagliari fans, hands out either side with a nonchalant and defiant demeanour.

He literally took a stance against racism in that moment. He was later accused of being fifty percent to blame for the racism he endured by celebrating in that manner.

Shockingly, that was the conclusion reached by one of his fellow and senior team-mates after the game. Perhaps clubs could do more to train players on how to respond to teammates who have endured racial abuse during performance.

COUNTER=PRODUCTIVE

Some have suggested that footballers should walk off the pitch if they are subjected to abuse. This could be effective, but it might not really help to tackle the problem of racism itself.

Perpetrators might even see it as a win by forcing their victims to seek refuge, and although it may temporarily relieve symptoms for the victims; it could actually prove counter-productive in tackling the root causes.

Maybe more could be done at the grassroots level of sports. Coaches could teach young sportsmen and women how best to deal with racism in their chosen sport, both during and post-performance.

People react to racism in different ways, but perhaps training will help equip future sports stars with greater confidence and dignity when responding to racism during performance.

A more consistent uniformity of effective responses to racism would probably be more effective than a frequency of unpredictable and impulsive responses.

Part of the satisfaction perpetrators derive is not being able to predict how their target will react. Once reactions become easier to predict, perpetrators will deduce less fun from their own actions, and hopefully abuse would decrease as a result.

One way sports stars can stand against racist abuse is to let their talent do the talking. In England’s Euro qualifier against Montenegro on March 25, Raheem Sterling did just that. He and other black players were subjected to abuse by some Montenegro fans. Sterling set-up two goals and scored one himself.

In that game he demonstrated that racist abuse couldn’t stop him from performing at the highest level. He stayed focused on the task and literally let his talent do the talking instead.

UEFA European football’s governing body are due to charge Montenegro accordingly. But what happens when sports stars have a bad day and they are racially abused? So although effective, talent alone cannot be the sole response to racism if attitudes are to change.

Sports stars have enormous platforms from which they can raise awareness about racism, but can they actually change people’s attitudes or are they merely catalysts to spark change? Maybe their efforts need to be supported by greater action against discrimination as a whole.

Contrary to the saying, ignorance is not always bliss, and in regards to discrimination, the more we replace ignorance with inclusion, the better off we will be, in sport and in general.

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