Tag Archives: Racism in sports

Could the World Cup be fixed?

… and what about the German fans who blacked-up? Racists?

Q: That question in the headline: you’re kidding, right?
A: Who knows? If you saw the Channel 4 “Dispatches” programme earlier this week, you’d wonder if anything in football is genuine. Over the past few weeks, we’ve learned how Fifa, the organization that runs the game, is corrupt and many of its officials have taken bribes. We also know that referees have been straightened in Europe and probably beyond. Add to this the stories involving Asian betting syndicates, players who have taken money and managers who have taken “bungs,” and you get the picture: this is not a sport where fair play rules.
Q: But surely not at the World Cup?
A: It’s devastating to think that the most prestigious tournament in the sport would be susceptible to corruption, but ask yourself how difficult it would be to do it. The team that wins the World Cup needs to play a total of six games. That means that you would need to straighten six referees. A penalty, a red card, a disallowed goal. It’s not inconceivable that a few key decisions can influence the destiny of the trophy.
Q: That’s preposterous. Referees are upright people.
A: Referee Robert Hoyzer wasn’t: in 2006, he confessed to taking bribes. He actually went to prison as a result. It’s naive to assume he is the only one. And the Italian scandal that resulted in some big clubs, including Juventus, being punished, exposed the depth and breadth of corruption in football. So even if the vast majority of referees are honorable people, it only takes a few to destroy the entire spirit of fair play.
Q: You seem to take delight in spoiling it for us football fans; I mean, you’re always putting a damper on things.I’ve been reading your new book Football’s Dark Side in which you and your co-author Jamie Cleland take apart the sport piece-by-piece and show that’s it’s corrupt, pockmarked with racism, homophobia and violence. Why?
A: Because I’m a realist: I don’t get carried away with myths and fairytales: football is a professional game and wherever there’s money, there’s corruption. That’s as sure as night follows day. If you and fellow sports fans want to believe the fantasy that sport is pure and untainted, go ahead. But I have pretty convincing evidence that that isn’t reality. I prefer truth to falsity.
Q: OK, while we’re on the subject of football, what did you make of the German football fans who blacked-up when Germany played Ghana?
A: It shows you just how behind-the-curve some nations are. For some reason, these white fans thought they were being amusing by blacking their faces like the old minstrels. Maybe they didn’t understand how crude, insulting, offensive, abusive, objectionable and provocative their behaviour truly was. I know we always see fans ribbing each other and this is part of the cut-and-thrust of football; but this wasn’t amusing; it just caused other people, particularly black people, to feel resentful, annoyed and justifiably upset.
Q: Oh, you’re taking this too seriously.
A: If you think that, ask yourself: what’s funny about it? I doubt if any of the African nations, their players or fans, thought this was anything but an insult.@elliscashmore


Q: How should we deal with racism in sport? A: Learn from the NBA

Q: So what’s all the fuss about with the National Basketball Association and this guy Don Sterling?
A: Sterling is the owner of the NBA club Los Angeles Clippers. He has a supermodel girlfriend (pictured with him above), who apparently invited African American friends to games. Sterling, it seems, told her not to bring them. The league got to hear about this and took a very dim view.
Q: I guess the NBA punished him, eh?
A: And how! The league hit him with a $2.5 million (about £1.5m) fine and banned him for life. So he can’t go near his own club now. The NBA also says he must sell the Clippers.
Q: What’s the club worth?
A: $575 million, according to Forbes magazine.
Q: Wow! Can the NBA actually force him to sell?
A: This remains to be seen. Remember: this is the land of the free and home of the brave and private property is at the heart of the American ethos. Sterling’s lawyers will be preparing to challenge the NBA’s decision. He can afford the fine, but he’ll almost certainly want to keep his club. There is bound to be a long legal struggle ahead.
Q: Does the punishment fit the crime?
A: It’s certainly an extremely harsh punishment, unparalleled in sport history. His comments are not directly abusive, but they are racist by inference. Compared to some of the incidents we’ve seen in football, they are relatively mild. Don’t get me wrong: you can extrapolate the racism from his remarks, but in Europe players and fans openly mouth racist language and use Twitter to convey racist epithets. The nearest case to this one was in 2007 when Spain’s head coach Luis Aragonés was caught on camera referring to the then Arsenal striker Thierry Henry as “that black shit.”
Q: And how did Uefa, football’s European governing organization, react?
A: A £2,000 fine, which Aragonés later successfully appealed.
Q: But that was seven years ago. Uefa and football’s world governing federation Fifa are tougher on racism now, right?
A: Last October, Uefa ordered the partial closure of CSKA Moscow’s stadium for one game following racist chanting directed at Manchester City’s Yaya Toure. Only last week, Uefa said it wasn’t able to take action against a fan who threw a banana at Barcelona player Dani Alves because it was up to the Spanish federation to act.
Q: This sounds almost unbelievably soft in comparison with the NBA approach.
A: It is. You have to remember: nearly 77% of the National Basketball Association’s players are African American. The league is embarrassed because only one club has an African American owner.
Q: That would be Michael Jordan, owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, right?
A: Correct. Nearly half the coaches in the league are black, but the NBA would like more ownership profile to look a bit more like the player profile. You also have to think that a lot of basketball fans are black. So the NBA is understandably sensitive about any hint of racism, especially at the top.
Q: Finally, do you think football has anything to learn from this?

A: Racism has been in football since the late 1970s and the sport has never successfully managed to rid itself of what has become its most bedevilling problem. No other sport has struggled with racism in the same way as the so-called beautiful game — which is the most multicultural sport in history, of course. The NBA’s approach seems to be this: stamp down hard on the first evidence of racism in the most dramatic, emphatic way it legally can, and this will send out a clear message. Football has been lily-livered and the message it’s been sending out is: “racism is unpleasant, but we have other priorities; so we’ll dole out minor fines or close parts of stadiums and hope this will suffice.” It won’t. I’m not saying it should take clubs away from owners, but a fine of £1.5m for a first offence and perhaps suspension from European competition for a few years might have the required effect.

50th Anniversary of the Fight that Changed the World of Sport

THE GREATEST – FEB. 25, 1964 LISTON vs CLAYIn 1964, Cassius Clay forced the world heavyweight champion Sonny Liston into retirement and easily dismissed him in the rematch.  Between the two fights, he had proclaimed his change of name to Muhammad Ali, reflecting his conversion to Islam.  In fact, he had made public his membership of the Nation of Islam, sometimes known as the Black Muslims, prior to the first Liston fight, but the full ramifications came later.Born in Louisville, Kentucky, in the segregated south, Cassius Clay, as he was christened, was made forcibly aware of America’s “two nations,” one black, one white.  In his autobiography, he related how, after the euphoria of winning a gold medal at the Rome Olympics of 1960, he returned home to be refused service at a restaurant.  This kind of incident was to influence his later commitments.  Clay’s amateur triumphs convinced a syndicate of white entrepreneurs to finance his early professional career.

The Nation of Islam was led by Elijah Muhammad and had among its most famous followers Malcolm X, who kept company with Ali and who was to be assassinated in February 1965.  Among the Nation’s principles were (and are) that whites were “blue-eyed devils” who were intent on keeping black people in a state of subjugation and that integration was not only impossible, but undesirable.  Blacks and whites should live separately; preferably by living in different states.  The view was in stark distinction to North America’s melting pot ideal.

Ali’s camp comprised only one white man — Angelo Dundee, the trainer.  Cassius Clay Sr was violently opposed to Ali’s affiliation, not on religious grounds, but because he believed the entourage of Black Muslims he attracted were taking his money.  But Ali’s commitment deepened and the media, which had earlier warmed to his extravagance, turned against him.  A rift occurred between Ali and Joe Louis, the former heavyweight champion who was once described as “a credit to his race.”  This presaged several other conflicts with other black boxers whom Ali believed had allowed themselves to become assimilated into white America and had failed to face themselves as true black people.

Ali saved his most ardent criticism for Floyd Patterson whom he called an “Uncle Tom” and “the rabbit,” after Patterson had refused to use his Islamic name.  He seemed to delight in punishing Patterson in their fight in 1965.  The almost malicious performance brought censure from sections of America, both black and white.

The events that followed Ali’s call-up by the military in February 1966 were dramatized by a background of growing resistance to the US involvement in the Vietnam war.  Ali failed to meet the qualifying criteria in the mental aptitude at first, but, by 1966, with the war intensifying, the US Army lowered the required percentile, making him eligible for the draft.  A legal request for a deferment from military service was denied.  Ali’s oft-quoted remark “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong” made headlines around the world and positioned him in the eyes of many as the most famous-ever draft dodger.  But, he insisted that his conscience not cowardice guided his decision not to serve in the military and, so, to many others, he became a mighty signifier of pacifism.

Ali continued to defend his title, often traveling overseas in response to attempted boycotts of his fights.  At the nadir of is popularity, he fought Ernie Terrell, who, like Patterson, persisted in calling him “Clay.”  The fight in Houston had a grim subtext with Ali constantly taunting Terrell.  “What’s my name, Uncle Tom?” Ali asked Terrell as he administered a callous beating.  Ali prolonged the torment until the fourteenth round.  The phrase “What’s my name?” became a slogan of defiance. Media reaction to the fight was wholly negative.  Jimmy Cannon, a boxing writer of the day, wrote: “It was a bad fight, nasty with the evil of religious fanaticism.  This wasn’t an athletic contest.  It was a kind of lynching … [Ali] is a vicious propagandist for a spiteful mob that works the religious underworld.”

In April 1967, Ali refused to be inducted into the armed forces.  Despite claims that he deserved the same status as conscientious objectors from the Mennonite Church or other Christian groups, Ali was denied and found guilty of draft evasion.  After a five-year legal struggle, during which time Ali was stripped of his title, a compromise was reached and Ali was set free.  During his exile, Ali had angered the Nation of Islam by announcing his wish to return to boxing if this was ever possible.  Elijah Muhammad, the supreme minister, denounced Ali for playing “the white man’s games of civilization.”  Elijah had objected to sports for some time, believing them to be detrimental to the progress of black people.

Other critical evaluations of sport were gathering force.  The black power inspired protests of John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the 1968 Olympics, combined with the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, where people like Sam Ramsamy were rallying against racism, had made clear that sport could be used to amplify the experiences of black people the world over.  While Ali was a bête noir for many whites and indeed blacks, several civil rights leaders, sports performers and entertainers came out publicly in his defense.

“Still others in American society viewed Ali as a genuine hero,” writes David Wiggins in his Glory Bound: Black athletes in a white America (Syracuse University Press, 1997).  “Many people in the black community viewed Ali in this manner, considering him a champion of the black Civil Rights movement who bravely defied the norms and conventions of the dominant culture.” As Michael Oriard, in his essay “Muhammad Ali: Hero in the age of mass media” concludes: “There was not a single Ali but many Alis in the public consciousness”

Ali’s moves were monitored by government intelligence organizations: given the growing respect he was afforded, he was seen as an influential figure.  Many of his conversations were wiretapped.  He spent three-and-a-half years without his title, unable to earn a living.  By the end of it, cultural conditions had shifted so much that he was widely regarded as a martyr by the by-then formidable antiwar movement and practically anyone who felt affinity with civil rights.

Ali’s first fight after exile was in October 1970.  He beat Jerry Quarry at an Atlanta where the majority of fans were African Americans.  Any prospect of a smooth transition back to the title was dashed March 1971 by Joe Frazier, who had taken the title in Ali’s absence and defended it with unexpected tenacity in a contest that started one of the most celebrated rivalries in sport.  Ali had called Frazier a “white man’s champion” and declared: “Any black man who’s for Joe Frazier is a traitor.” Ali beat Frazier twice over the following years, every fight being viciously fought and punishing for both men.

Ali had to wait until 1974 before getting another chance at the world title.  By this time, Frazier had been dethroned by George Foreman and Ali, at 32, was not favored; in fact, many feared for his well-being, especially as he had been given two tough fights by the unheralded Ken Norton (one win each; Ali won a third later, in 1976).  The fight in Zaire was promoted by Don King, at that stage building his way toward becoming one of the world’s most powerful sports entrepreneurs.  The circumstances surrounding what was known as “The Rumble in the Jungle” are the subject of Leon Gast’s documentary film When We Were Kings.  Ali’s remarkable Phoenix-like victory re-established him as the world heavyweight champion. The death of Elijah Muhammad in 1975 led to a split in the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan taking the movement in a fundamentalist direction, while Elijah’s son Wallace D. Muhammad founded the World Community of Al-Islam in the West which dwelt less on past atrocities of blue-eyed devils, more on the future.  Ali sided with Wallace.

In June 1979, having lost and regained the title against Leon Spinks and beaten Frazier once more, Ali announced his retirement from boxing.  There were clear signs of decline in both Spinks fights and, at 37, Ali appeared to have made a graceful exit when he moved to Los Angeles with his third wife Veronica whom he had married two years before. His first marriage lasted less than a year ending in 1966; Ali married again in 1967.

Ali had split with the business syndicate that handled his early affairs after joining the Nation.  His manager became Herbert Muhammad.  Hauser estimates Ali’s career earnings to 1979 to be “tens of millions of dollars.”  The three Frazier fights alone brought Ali $11m; the 1976 Norton fight grossed him $6m; his purse for the Foreman fight was $5.45m; he earned $6.75m for the two Spinks fights.  His lesser-paid fights were typically worth $2m each to Ali.  Yet, on his retirement, Ali was not wealthy.  His wife had an extravagant lifestyle and his business investments were poorly judged.  He also gave generously to the Nation of Islam and to various causes.

Within 15 months of his announced retirement, Ali returned to the ring, his principal motivation, apparently being money, though Ali himself reckoned it was the prospect of winning the world title for a record fourth time that drove him.  While public sentiment seemed against a comeback at 38 against a peak-form Larry Holmes, who was employed as Ali’s sparring partner between 1973-75, boxoffice interest was strong enough to justify paying Ali $8m.  Holmes, as champion, received less than $3m.  It was the first fight in which Ali failed to last the full distance and seemed an inglorious, if lucrative end, to a grand career.

Ali’s ill-fated business ventures took another bad turn when he became involved with Muhammad Ali Professional Sports, an organization headed by Harold Williams, which proved to be a fraudulent operation.  A return to the ring appeared impossible after medical tests revealed all manner of complication and Ali relinquished his boxing license to the Nevada State Athletic Commission.  But, this still left him free to box elsewhere in the world and, in December 1981, he fought once more in Nassau, the Bahamas.  It ended in another resounding defeat, this time by Trevor Berbick.  James Cornelius, who was a member of the Nation of Islam, promoted the fight.  As in the Holmes fight, there was plain evidence of Ali’s acute deterioration and, although he lasted the ten round distance, he spent much of the fight against the ropes soaking up punishment.  He was 39 and had fought 61 times, with a 56-5 record.

Further questionable business deals and an expensive divorce in 1986 followed.  In 1984, he disappointed his supporters when he nominally supported Ronald Reagan’s reelection bid.  He also endorsed George Bush in 1988.  The Republican Party’s policies, particularly in regard to affirmative action programs, were widely seen as detrimental to the interests of African Americans and Ali’s actions were, for many, tantamount to a betrayal.

Ali’s public appearances gave substance to stories of his ill health.  By 1987, he was the subject of much medical interest.  Slurred speech and uncoordinated bodily movements gave rise to several theories about his condition, which was ultimately revealed as Parkinson’s Syndrome.  His public appearances became rarer and he became Hauser’s “benign venerated figure.”

Over a period of four decades, Ali excited a variety of responses: admiration and respect, of course, but also cynicism, anger and condemnation.  At different points in his life, he drew the adulation of young people committed to civil rights, black power and peace.  Yet, as Wiggins points out: “Members of the establishment were, moreover, infuriated by Ali because he exposed, for all the world to see, an America that was unwilling to honor its own precepts.”

Ali engaged with the central issues that preoccupied America: race and war.  But, it would be remiss to understand him as a symbol of social healing; much of his mission was to expose and, perhaps, to deepen divisions.  He preached peace, yet aligned himself with a movement that sanctioned racial separation and the subordination of women.  He accepted a role with the liberal Democratic administration of Jimmy Carter, yet later sided with reactionaries, Reagan and Bush.  He preached black pride, yet disparaged and dehumanized fellow blacks.  He preached the importance of self-determination, yet allowed himself to be sucked into so many doubtful business deals that he was forced to prolong his career to the point where his dignity was effaced.  Like any towering symbol, he had very human contradictions.


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L’affaire Anelka draws towards a climax

Nicolas Anelka’s case to be heard next weekThe three-man independent regulatory panel’s hearing is expected to last several days. West Brom’s French striker faces a minimum five-match ban after being charged by the FA with performing an alleged anti-Semitic gesture during his club’s match against West Ham on December 28. The 34-year-old has denied the gesture was anti-Semitic and requested a personal hearing. I wrote a blog on L’affaire Anelka a few weeks ago. Now, as the case draws towards a climax, I reproduce it …

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It’s often assumed that people who are part of a group victimized by history are somehow immune from the bigotry that drives their assailants. A naive assumption, perhaps, but one with enough plausibility to make us think twice about accusing people who have been on the receiving end of racism of dishing it out. Of course, we don’t know whether Nicolas Anelka, the French footballer with parents from the Caribbean island Martinique, has ever experienced racism firsthand; but, as a black man, he would surely have been uncomfortably familiar with its effects in Europe and elsewhere. And, having played in England on-and-off since aged 17 (he signed for Arsenal in 1997), he would be aware that racism has been one of the most bedevilling problems in English and, for that matter, European football for several years. Yet he stands accused by the Football Association (FA) of an offence, which, if not exactly the same as racism, is certainly on the same continuum. In the unlikely event that some readers are not au fait with the Anelka affair, let me offer a brief summary: Anelka is a personal friend of a Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, a French comedian who is also black and is notorious for what some believe is antisemitic humour. Last December, Anelka, playing for West Bromwich Albion, celebrated scoring a goal by making a a gesture in which he thrust out his right arm and tapped it with his left hand (see the photograph above). No one in England knew the meaning of the behaviour, but it soon came to light: it is called a quenelle and has been popularized by Dieudonné. The probability is that Anelka gestured to show his solidarity with his controversial friend, currently under pressure from French authorities. The Football Association has been sorely exercised for the past two years by the reappearance of racism in football and decided to investigate the possible meanings of Anelka’s signal.  After three weeks of deliberations, the FA charged Anelka with making a gesture that is “abusive and/or indecent and/or insulting and/or improper.” We don’t yet know the full content of the accusation or Anelka’s apparent rebuttal, but it seems fair to conclude that Anelka will resist any claims that he intended to make a sign that would be offensive to anyone, including Jews, and he was signalling a more common attitude of defiance against authority, or what many people call the establishment.

“The object Dieudonné’s satire is an Establishment dominated, as he sees it, by Jews, who have secured positions of power and insulated themselves against criticism

Before we go further, let’s pause to consider this term establishment. It typically takes a capital E and refers to a group in society exercising power and influence of matters of policy, or even taste, and seen as resisting change. The concept of an Establishment was popular in the 1960s when a rebellious spirit coursed through society, leaving no aspect of life unchanged. Figures such as Martin Luther King (1929-68), James Dean (1931-55), Che Guevera (1928-67) could all, in very different ways, be described as anti-Establishment. Dieudonné would presumably align himself with comedians like Lenny Bruce (1925-66) and Bill Hicks (1961-94), both of whom achieved a kind of infamy. But the object Dieudonné’s satire is an Establishment dominated, as he sees it, by Jews, who have secured positions of power and insulated themselves against criticism. This is not a worldview derived from conspiracy theories, though it’s not totally inconsistent with theories, such as those promulgated by the Protocols of the Meetings of the Learned Elders of Zion, an monstrously spurious document that purported to reveal a plan for world domination. Anelka has followed Dieudonné in rejecting accusations of antisemitism, by which he presumably means he has no hostility towards Jews. Dieudonné is, on his own account, critical of Zionism, which was originally a political movement, launched in 1897, for the establishment and protection of a Jewish nation in what is now Israel. It’s predicated on a distinct Jewish identity and culture and, in some versions, opposes integration. Its critics interpret this exclusivity as a form of racism. So the complexities of the Anelka case multiply: a black man is accused of issuing a gesture that may be antisemitic, but which he claims is anti-Establishment. On closer examination, the Establishment he opposes appears to be a particular arrangement rather than the more generic society.  Anelka has used Facebook to defend himself, marshalling the support of prominent Jewish leaders to argue the quenelle is not an antisemitic gesture and that he didn’t intend them to be interpreted as such.

“Very few people own up to being antisemitic, anti-Islam, anti-Arab or anti-anything

My fellow member of  the British Sociological Association’s Race & Ethnicity Study Group/Forum Leon Moosavi, of the University of Liverpool, accepts this and points out that the gesture is not imbued with what he calls a “coherent meaning.” It’s a fair point. But gestures, signs and symbols can acquire coherence if they are used in a particular way and, however ambiguous the gesture might have been, there is no denying the quenelle has been used outside synagogues, at Auschwitz, in front of the Jewish school where Toulouse gunman Mohamed Merah killed three children, by signs for rue du Four (Oven Street) and rue des Juifs (Jews’ Street) and in front of the trains that transported French Jews to the concentration camps. Even in the improbable event that Anelka was not aware of the antisemitic connotations of the sign, is his intention a defence? Forum member Brendan McGeever, a doctoral candidate at University of Glasgow, thinks that, while intent should be considered, the reception of signs, representations and so on is just as if not more important. Author Tom Wengraf is even more dismissive of Anelka’s stated intentions because very few people own up to being antisemitic, anti-Islam, anti-Arab or anti-anything. But that “doesn’t mean that we can’t claim (with good evidence)  that they are, despite their occasionally sincere words.” Deeds are more powerful than words in this instance, reckons Wengraf. Aaron Winter, of the University of Abertay, points out that, while the term anti-Establishment historically has associations with rebelliousness and insurgency and sounds progressive, even revolutionary, the term has “floated to the right.” In other words, the term is vulnerable to hijacking by groups that have far-from revolutionary agendas. Criticism can be easily absorbed and turned into evidence. So groups that believe powerful minorities control society have a tendency to explain attacks against their own views as proof of the validity of those views; so there is a kind of self-corroborating logic at work. Anelka is not the first prominent black figure to be involved in an incident like this. In 1986, US civil rights activist Jesse Jackson (1941-), who had campainged alongside Martin Luther King, was embarrassed after making offensive remarks that purportedly poked fun at Jews. Al Sharpton (1954-) has had to defend himself several times against accusations of antitsemitism. Louis Farrakhan (1933-), the Black Muslim leader, became notorious in 1984 when he spoke of Judaism as “a dirty religion.” Anelka himself converted to Islam in 2004 and bears the Islamic name Abdul Salam Bilal Anelka, though he has no known affiliation with Farrakhan’s organization.

“Issues of race, religion, culture and multiple prejudices will be addressed

Kick It Out chairman Lord Ouseley has criticised both the FA and West Bromwich Albion for their lack of quick action. The club perhaps might have asked Anelka to clarify his intentions in public, but has otherwise acted properly in refusing to react in a way that could have prejudiced subsequent investigations. And the FA has sensibly taken time to gather evidence and seek advice before deciding to charge Anelka. This is a much more complicated case than those that ended in the punishment of John Terry and Luis Suárez. It is a tangle of thorns; many people will get spiked.  If — as we expect — Anelka is fined and suspended for eight or more games (Suárez was banned for eight games and fined £40,000), he will likely appeal and implicate the FA in an unseemly legal conflict that is sure to outlast Anelka’s stay at his present club. The conflict will be forced to address issues of race, religion, culture and multiple prejudices.