Racism report: “There are days, it seems like we are going somewhere” | sport

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Jonathan Liew, sports writer

Writing about racism is tiring and – to be honest – not much fun. By definition, it is an exploration of pain and suffering. We saw this when Azeem Rafiq spoke in parliament about the racism he had encountered in Yorkshire cricket. It involves spending a lot of time with mankind’s worst impulses. It requires trying to understand the mindset of people who have no interest in understanding you. We see that every time a right-wing politician or media tries to justify racism under the deceptive “anti-awakening” banner.

This is doubly true in the case of sport, which is for the most part a place where one is going to feel uplifted, perhaps even seeking temporary refuge from the world and its complex and exasperating problems. And so often in this job it is impossible not to feel a little rude. Do you know that thing you love? That you love since your childhood? This source of simple, happy, incorruptible memories? It turns out that it is in fact moral bankruptcy beyond measure!

Then there are the days when you feel like you might just be getting somewhere. An article that makes you change your mind. A revelation or a news that forces the powerful to think. Or sometimes a moment that just rocks you. Perhaps one of the most emotional episodes of the sporting year came during an otherwise utterly forgettable pre-season friendly at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in August, when Bukayo Saka was presented by Arsenal as substitute.

As you probably know, Saka missed the crucial penalty for England in the Euro 2020 final against Italy at Wembley, and in the days that followed he was subjected to a vicious and sustained wave. racist abuse. Now, as he marched through enemy territory to the home of his club’s biggest rivals, Tottenham fans applauded his every step: a display of solidarity and kinship across tribal lines that was shocking in his challenge .

It was a gesture that said, actually, fuck off the rivalry for a moment. Some things mean more. And you must know that we know it. Every now and then there are days when it feels like no one is listening and no one is learning, when there isn’t much left to hang on to. Well hang on to that.

Barney Ronay, Sports Editor-in-Chief

English cricket is never short of stories. The Ashes will dominate the sports news cycle on either side of Christmas. This year’s T20 World Cup is a prelude to the joys of next year’s T20 World Cup, and the 50+ World Cup the following year. In the current rush to balance schedules, to gorge themselves on stored television rights deals, every year is the year of the World Cup right now, every two months another step on the franchise carousel.

These are the headlines. But the real history of English cricket is, as so often, elsewhere. In recent weeks, Rafiq’s refusal to walk away from his experience of institutionalized racist abuse at Yorkshire County Cricket Club has gone from noise on the sports pages to questions in parliament, to reputation management in the Nike meeting room and to a state of emergency at England’s largest cricket county.

This story has only just begun. But we can promise that with the help and contribution of the readers, we will keep saying it in the pages of Guardian Sport and keep trying to take it to the next level.

Rafiq is a hero. Her bravery isn’t just in telling her story, but in her willingness to tell it until people listen to her, even though her character is smeared and her motives questioned.

Anti-racist protesters outside Yorkshire Cricket Club’s, Headingley. Photograph: Gary Calton / The Observer

In the face of massive public pressure, there was a sudden willingness to listen in high places. But one thing is certain. It’s not even close to being finished, or resolved or wrapped up, no matter how many reports or statements the England and Wales Cricket Council might send to it, no matter how many layers of Yorkshire management that are being removed.

We still see whole sections of society under-represented in the professional game, deprived of opportunities, excluded by habits and structures, and often more or less invisible at the management level. If Rafiq’s courage tells us anything, it’s that those who invest in the status quo will only respond to public pressure. This is, hopefully, where Guardian journalism can make an impact.

Jacob Steinberg, football journalist

I was at London Stadium to watch West Ham host Tottenham in the Premier League a few weeks ago. It can be difficult for a Jew to attend. Tottenham has often been the target of anti-Semitic taunts and I wasn’t particularly surprised when I heard a nearby West Ham fan singing a foreskin chant, right… ”

It was a shocking moment, a reminder that discrimination in football remains an issue despite repeated efforts to eliminate it: and there was more to come when West Ham traveled to face Genk in the Europa League last month. The images of supporters mocking a Jewish man on a plane to Belgium were another punch in the stomach.

Unfortunately, these incidents remain too frequent and 2021 has become a turning point for sport and racism. Last year, Kick It Out, football’s anti-discrimination charity, warned that a ‘shocking’ increase in reports of racist and homophobic abuse in professional football was just the tip of the iceberg , and unfortunately that is now part of our job as a footballer. rapporteurs to ensure that the issue is dealt with in an appropriate, sensitive and thorough manner.

We’ve all experienced that sinking feeling sitting in a press box – the moment we realize that a section of supporters on the pitch is targeting racist abuse against a young black footballer. It happened when England traveled to Budapest to take on Hungary, but it’s crucial to note that racism isn’t just a problem in foreign countries: it was deflating for Gareth Southgate to have to dedicate part of his debriefing with the media after the Euro 2020 final talk about racism.

Wide shot of English players, in white, and Italian players, in blue, on one knee around center circle
England and Italy are on their knees ahead of the Euro 2020 final at Wembley last year. Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga / AFP / Getty Images

But we have to talk about it. At The Guardian, this is a topic that we continue to cover rigorously. In 2019, we published a broad report on the rise of racism in football, locally and in professional football, and we explored the issue again earlier this year. In 2021, our columnists have written over and over again about an issue that, far from receding, appears to be hardening.

We prepared for England’s Euro 2020 opener against Croatia by interviewing Labor leader Keir Starmer on racism in football and we heard from several personalities inside and outside the football talk about discrimination, among which the former players Lilian Thuram and Anton Ferdinand, and the poet Benjamin Zephaniah. Chris Hughton spoke to us about the challenges black managers face and our award-winning podcast, Football Weekly, recently broadcast an interview with former Liverpool and England winger John Barnes about his experiences with racism.

The hope is that persistent intercourse will have a positive effect; that it will change mentalities in the stands and increase diversity at the top. It is our duty to put pressure on the authorities who have often seemed jaded on the issue. It is no longer just important to keep talking and writing about racism in football. It is a moral obligation.


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