Is Racism in Sport a War that Cant be Won?

On Thursday, the 9th of July 2015 was a bittersweet day for MTN-Qhubeka at Tour de France 2015. The team, which had competed in the annual cycling event since the 50’s, made history, as Eritrean team member Daniel Teklehaimanot became the first African to wear the coveted polka dot leaders jersey in Tour de France. Their victory was however tainted with racist comments made by Belarusian rider Branislau Samoilau, who according to reports called Eritrean Natnael Berhane a f****n****

Though Samoilau had apologized, and offered his salary as a peace offering to the Qhubeka charity, it is important to note that Berhane is not the first victim of a racial slur in Tour de France. Last year, Kevin Reza, a black French cyclist was subjected to racial abuse during the event. Speaking to Reuters on Friday, he said racism is a war that cannot be won.

According to Reza, “It’s not only cycling, racism is everywhere.” Last year, Donald Sterling lost ownership of the LA Clippers for his racist remarks caught on tape.  Many were shocked that a man with 33 years of ownership of a black dominated sport could harbor such absurd sentiments about black people.

European soccer fans have out rightly demonstrated racism over the years. In 2013, AC Milan players abandoned a game at Lombardy after spectators raised abusive chants at Kevin-Prince Boateng. Also, in April last year, Dani Alves of Barcelona ate a banana thrown at him by a Villarreal fan; an act of regular occurrence in European stadia.  This incident ignited the hashtag, ‘we are all monkeys’, after Brazilian football star Neymar posted a photo of himself and his son eating bananas on instagram.

2013 also brought to light racial stereotypism in sport; the case of professional basketball player Jeremy Lin, an American of Asian descent speaks to this. Though he led his high school to state championship, and was the states high school  player of the year, he was not offered a scholarship by any of the two leading universities in the state of california.

Recently, there ensued a ‘racist spat’ between Australian tennis star Nick Kyrgios and Australian swimming legend Dawn Fraser where the 78 year old was called a “blatant racist” by the 20 year old. At first, Fraser adamantly defended her comments, but later released a statement apologizing to Kyrgios and his family.

This past weekend, Serena Williams’ victory at wimbledon sparked a controversial discussion, especially after the article by NewYork Times author Ben Rothenberg. The author had come out to say he is surprised and disappointed at the reaction of people towards the article, a story he said to have painstakinly made balanced, but is now tagged as ‘classically racist’.

In December 2014, the United States alone had over a dozen reported incidents of racism in sports, yet no significant changes have been made. One thing is clear- racism in sports cannot be addressed in isolation from racism as a whole. To address one, is to address the other.

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