While sport has the power to unify people from various ethnic backgrounds, it also offers a platform to segregate people on the basis of skin color, looks and certain characteristics.
This leads me to question whether we have developed a tendency to abuse the glory of this global activity by churning out racist and homophobic comments both on and off the field.
In 1993 in the Australian Football league, Nicky Winmar, a fine St Kilda player of Aboriginal origin, walked over to rival supporters who were constantly hurling racial slurs at him, lifted his jersey and pointed rebelliously to his skin with his middle finger – a defining moment in Australian sport that sparked immediate action by authorities to eliminate racism.
But, twenty years on, in spite of constant efforts by the AFL to banish racism from the sport, incidents continue to occur on a regular basis from both inside and outside the boundary line.
While it’s wonderful for sport that fans go all out to show their support, it’s equally important to also respect the opponent and rival supporters in both victory as well as in defeat.
A Collingwood fan’s 20-year club membership was terminated by the club after he was spotted racially vilifying Gold Coast player Joel Wilkinson earlier this year. To cite another example that occurred this year on the field, St Kilda’s Steve Milne called Collingwood’s Harry O’ Brien a ‘f****** homo.’ Both of these incidents were totally uncalled for.
Moving onto the global game, soccer, the Department for Culture Media and Sport committee in England says that while the atmosphere inside British soccer grounds have improved since the 1980s, significant problems continue to persist.
In the last one year, authorities have had to tackle the issue of racism in two separate incidents, one involving Patrice Evra of Manchester United and Liverpool’s Luis Suarez while the other being Chelsea’s John Terry and Anton Ferdinand of Queens Park Rangers.
Eventually, the governing bodies such as FIFA and the AFL can’t do much more than constantly instigate campaigns against racism and homophobia; the root cause lies in the mindset, attitudes and mental makeup of society.
It was half a century ago that American activist Martin Luther King wished his children wouldn’t be judged by the color of their skin but by their personalities. Fast-forward to the present and we are still grappling with the problem.
Ultimately, it boils down to the responsibility of each individual to help eradicate this long-standing concern. No matter who you are or what you stand for, racism and homophobia cannot be tolerated in any form.
We draw a lot of enjoyment and inspiration from sport so let’s not taint its magnificence and start adopting a much more dignified approach – this goes for people both on and off the field.