The racial abuse in Sydney has taken the cricket world by storm. But it’s not just cricket, racism is prevalent in other sports too. Sports has no colour, says legend, but data shows otherwise. Research from the University of Central Florida’s The Institute for Diversity and Ethics (TIDE), quoted by a prominent sports website, finds 131 documented acts of racism in sports in 2019. As high as 62 per cent of them were in football alone. The figure was 137 in 2018 and 79 in 2017.
In February last year, one of the highest profile games on the English football calendar – a clash between Chelsea and Tottenham – was forced to stop play in the 63rd minute. The reason: Black Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger accused Tottenham supporters of subjecting him to racist monkey chants.
Tennis fans will recall the infamous 2001 incident at Indian Wells which led the Williams sisters to boycott the event for more than a decade. Citing tendinitis in her knee, Venus withdrew from a match against sister Serena resulting in racial booing by a predominantly white crowd during the game. French player Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, born to a Congolese father and a French mother, too, has reportedly received several letters containing racial abuse.
Tiger Woods became the first non-white player to win “The Masters” way back in 1997. His book ‘The 1997 Masters: My Story’ talks of his struggles on the grounds of race. Until 1961, the PGA was a “Caucasians only” game. A long legal war and series of protests led by black stars Bill Spiller and Ted Rhodes led to rescinding of discriminatory rules. As recently as last week, World no. 3 Justin Thomas, apologised for using a homophobic slur at a PGA Tour tournament in Hawaii.
But many games are trying to rise to the occasion. For example, in football, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) introduced in October 2019 a three-step protocol empowering the referee to act against racism while the game is on. “As part of a three-step procedure, the guidelines grant referees the power to initially halt play and, if the racist behaviour continues, abandon the match,” says a guideline issued by the UEFA.
Step 1 involves the referee requesting an announcement over the public address system asking spectators to immediately stop any racist behaviour. In case the spectators don’t desist, the match could be suspended for a reasonable period of time, say five to ten minutes, and teams could be asked to go to their respective dressing rooms. “As a final resort, if the racist behaviour continues after a second restart, the referee can definitively abandon the match,” the UEFA procedure says. Further, the case is referred to UEFA’s disciplinary authorities.
FIFA, the international governing body for football, has also drawn a similar three-step code of conduct to deal with racism. It further recommends penalising the teams or associations of those involved with fines. “For a first offence, playing a match with a limited number of spectators and a fine of at least CHF (Swiss Franc) 20,000 shall be imposed on the association or club concerned,” the FIFA guideline says.
For the erring individual and clubs, additional punishments may include suspension lasting at least 10 matches, point deduction, playing one or more matches without spectators, a ban on playing in a particular stadium, to forfeiting of a match. In worst cases, reads FIFA guideline, “expulsion from a competition or relegation to a lower division may be imposed on the association or club concerned.”
The US’ National Basketball Association or the NBA, too, has been struggling with the issue of spectator racism for a long time. Players have protested about hate coming from the spectator’s stands, game after game. As a league that has over 75 per cent African Americans, it has made some strict changes while toughening its fan conduct policies.
Officials are now keeping sharp eyes on the front rows and in those areas where there are possibilities of fans’ encounter with players and referees. Besides, the frequency of announcement of fan code of conduct has been increased.
The issue of racism has also plagued the game of hockey – both field and ice – as well, especially in the Europe and the US. In November 2019, NHL, the governing body for ice hockey in the United States announced immediate increase in the punishment for the use of racial/derogatory slurs “from a game misconduct to a match penalty.” Players caught involved in such act would face a five-minute time penalty besides disqualification from the game in which it occurs, and suspension until a USA Hockey affiliate or junior league has conducted a hearing to review the incident.