Abuse directed at Grand Prix racer Lewis Hamilton in Spain and an ugly confrontation between the Indian and Australian cricket sides provide depressing evidence that racism continues to blight international sport.
Briton Hamilton, Formula One’s first black driver, was booed and insulted by spectators who shouted racial abuse during testing at the Montmelo circuit in Barcelona last month.
India threatened to cut short their tour of Australia when spinner Harbhajan Singh was banned for three Tests after the Australians complained that he had made racist comments about Andrew Symonds during the second Test in Australia.
The suspension was overturned on appeal and Harbhajan was charged with the lesser offence of using abusive language.
Motorsport’s governing body the FIA plans to use the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona on April 27 to launch an anti-racism campaign.
It will work in conjunction with soccer’s “Kick it Out” and “Football against Racism in Europe” organisations.
Piara Powar, director of the London-based “Kick it Out”, told Reuters in an interview that television images and photographs showed quite clearly Hamilton’s race was being used to attack him.
He did say, however, that the problem had clearly been an isolated one.
“Motor racing has a very clean image, it’s a very international concern,” he said.
“You just don’t associate it with the dirty world of racial abuse.
“It has a different problem from other sports, the sport is very different, it goes from country to country.
“They don’t have home games as such, there isn’t a group of followers who follow it around with a close tribal identity as there is in football, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t see it again for a while.”
Powar was less complimentary about the International Cricket Council (ICC).
“I think the Harbhajan Singh incident illustrates the failing of the governance of cricket,” he said.
“If the allegations have been brought and the player has been charged, have the discipline to charge him. That’s the rule of natural justice.
“Then when you find them guilty, find them guilty and stick by your sanction rather than chopping and changing.
“Competitions in sport must be seen to be beyond reproach.”
Soccer in culturally and racially diverse Europe remains the flashpoint for many racial incidents.
Spain is one country struggling to adjust to the challenges of large-scale immigration, while an influx of Romanians into Italy has created racial tensions.
Powar said there were problems in eastern Europe and the Balkan countries that might not be obvious to the west.
“Nationalism is a very potent force in that region. As we have seen with the politics of the break-up in the Balkans, as deadly as anything that goes on anywhere,” he said.
“And that is all played out through football as football is such a powerful cultural force.
“There are people who are not seeking to use it for positive ends, it’s used for negative ends, to further tribal and sectarian issues to abuse people who are seen as outsiders, which I think are a major challenge for UEFA, the European commission and for national governments.
“I don’t think we can pretend we are doing anything but scratching the surface. At the same time we do see isolated, small comings together which provide building blocks.
“I think our job is to be addressing the policymakers whenever we can all around Europe, making sure that governments are taking it seriously, making sure that UEFA is doing everything it knows it needs to be doing.”