Racism in Sports

Date: Nov 22, 2018
Category: Sport Category


The topic for this research project is “Racism in Sports?” It starts with an introductory part which has served to elaborate the research topic. Racism is defined as unfair treatment or prejudice or acting with partiality towards someone because of one’s race. It simply refers to showing favour to the people of your race, at the expense of the other race. The research question for this proposal is whether there is racism in sports today and if there are structures and policies to deal with that. The research hypothesis states that there is no racism in sports. This hypothesis has been disapproved since the research problem is to seek to establish and give evidence as to whether there are instances of racism in different games. Under literature review, a number of resources shall be examined to ascertain if racism exists, or gain information related to the racial discrimination in football. Resources include sports and academic journals, internet, books etc. In doing analysis, the research will cross examine different sources of information and the evidence obtained to answer the research question. In the conclusion part, the researcher will give a brief statement of his findings.


This research project aims to cover the topic of racism in sport and the campaigns and programs put into place, especially football in the UK in the last year has been massively highlighted in the media. Jarvie and Reid (1997) state race, gender, and sport controversies have become commonplace in the media, but they have been largely ignored in sport. Racism is socially still a problem worldwide; however this report will focus on the issue of racial discrimination in sport today from grassroots all the way to the high level. Cutlip et al. claim (2008), “Racism continues to be a pervasive problem throughout world society” (Jones 1997; Ponterotto, Utsey & Pedersen 2006). Moreover, manifestations of racism are direct and indirect, blatant and subtle in contemporary society (Ridley 2005).

For many years, sport and racism seem to be associated together: going all the way back to the 1936 Berlin Olympics Games Jesse Owens caused an uproar by winning 4 gold medals thus eradicating Hitler’s idea of “white supremacy”. This historic incident not only led to Hitler’s failure to acknowledge the greatness of Owens, but also resulted in President Roosevelt’s refusal to invite Owens to the White House as he did not want to offend conservative voters by being seen with Owens, who was by then one of the world’s most famous black sportspeople (The Sports Campus 2012, p. 32). In addition, more recently allegations that Premier League footballer John Terry racially abused an opponent on the pitch have raised an issue that many thought had gone away. Despite numerous high-profile campaigns and a truly multicultural workplace, racism is still rife in the premier league (The Guardian 2012, p. 21).

Non-whites trading their soccer in the European nations have often been subjected to racial discrimination and racism. Notwithstanding the effort by Federal International Football Association (FIFA) to fight this vice to the football fraternity, racism is still a major problem even in the twenty first century. Blacks have often been treated by fans and fellow players on racism’s chants and abuses. This has often lowered their performances while in and out of the playing field. The FA on its part has enacted policies and regulations aimed at minimizing these incidences in the world of soccer. Some of these policies involve harsh financial penalties and imposing ban on both on the clubs’ fun section and any player involved in discrimination either on the pitch or off the fields. Besides, the soccer governing bodies have proposed training of more discriminate persons to take the coaching and management positions in the senior teams.

Statement of the Problem

Despite the effort by the World Football Governing Committee to curb this vice to the football fraternity through awareness campaign and policy mechanisms, racism is still a reality in this sport. Black and non-whites even of British or European origin have often been targeted by fellow players or club funs not only while in the field of play but also in other social arena. This did not start today as racism has for decades been a disaster in the world of soccer. The sport’s governing body chaired by FIFA President Blatter and the Football Association (FA) are aware of the challenges that racism poses to the entire soccer organizations and institutions. These bodies used stern measures of curtailing racism by making amendments to certain clauses in their constitutions. FIFA has championed for anti-racism campaigns and resource funding including formation of organizations such as Red Card to Racism and Kick Racism Out (Long et al. 2000, p. 62).

Although these massive financial investment and awareness campaigns were held, the recent racism and racial abuse in the United Kingdom, Spain, Germany, Italy, and Ukraine among other European footballing countries show that the analysed phenomenon is a reality in football profession. Perfect examples of racism over the last two calendar years are such incidences as Patrice Evra (Manchester United FC) versus Luis Suarez (Liverpool FC), John Terry (Chelsea FC) versus Antonio Ferdinand (QPR) (BCRE 2000, pp. 34-7). The media have also exposed incidence of racial abuse often uttered by fans through social media and networks. Besides, other important racial problems ranging from laddish behaviour to homophobic abuse by a section of fan terraces are other challenges that significantly impact on the professional performance of the racial victims. This puts a lot of doubt on the effectiveness of the football regulatory authorities’ addressing this problem and their fairness, consistency, and transparency in reporting any racial abusive criminal behaviour.

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Research Question

Is racism in sport still a problem? And if so are the programs in place helping to eradicate this problem?

Aims and Hypothesis

It has been argued by many sections within the sporting community that racism in sport is still a problem whilst others have argued that is not the case. The English FA says much has been achieved in making football “safe for all and free from abuse and discrimination”, but it recognizes there are many challenges still to be faced. It has revealed there were 144 incidents of misconduct in which racism was an aggravating factor during the 2011-2012 seasons (BBC Sport Football 2012). There are also campaigns and programs created to try and eradicate and highlight the problems of racism in sport, a main one being “Kick It Out” established as a campaign with the brand name “Let’s Kick Racism Out of Football” in 1993 and as an organization in 1997 (Spracklen 2003, p. 51).

The aim of this research project is to find out, if there is a problem of racism in sport and is the programs or campaigns in place working. Furthermore, the paper will investigate the hypothesis that prove or disprove that “racism in sport still exists” and “campaigns to combat racism in sport are working or not”.

Literature Review "FIFA"

For many (although certainly not all) participants, fans, and media commentators, racism in professional sport in the UK is now perceived as largely a thing of the past. Any remnants are seen to be perpetrated by a decreasing number of residual bigots, who reside on the terraces rather than in the locker-rooms, management offices, and boardrooms (Burdsey 2011, pp. 41-3).

Racism in sport has in some ways even been denied from high officials; for example when the FIFA President Sepp Blatter was asked if racism was a problem on the pitch, he answered to CNN World Sport, “I would deny it. There is no racism, there is maybe one of the players towards another, and he has a word or a gesture which is not the correct one. But also the one who is affected by that, he should say that this is a game” (The Telegraph 2012, p.11).

Remarkably, when UEFA fined the Spanish FA after Spain fans racially abused an Italian player during Euro 2012 and Barcelona player Dani Alves said “racism in the Spanish game is “uncontrollable”, Angel Villa Llona, President of the Spanish FA and a member of both FIFA and UEFA’s Executive Committee, insisted racism was not a problem.

The presence of this phenomenon is proved by the game in England, which has had two high-profile abuses cases in the last year, whereas Villa Llona was still assuring, “There is no racism in Spanish football” (The Independent 2012, p. 26). However, Colin King from the Black and Asian Coaches Association disagrees, he says his organisation’s 600 members report at least three cases of racism a week, “…from being called things like ‘Paki’, to the ‘N-word’. We’ve still got the monkey-shouting that takes place from parents and other managers as well. I do park football every week and I see racial abuse consistently” (BBC Sport 2012).

Over one month prior to the World Cup finals that were held in Australia, rugby in South Africa was rocked by big racism scandals. Geo Cronje was expelled from the squad because of his refusal to share a residential room with a black player Quinton Davids. Davids is one of the greatest stars and plays in Cape Town, for the Western Province and was expected to play a big role in the campaigns for Springbok. Press accounts reported that Cronje had to be ordered by the coach to share a room with Davids during training at Pretoria (Sporting Equals 2002, p. 12). Nevertheless, Cronje declined claiming that he was not ready to share toilet, bathroom, or shower with Davids.

South African Rugby Managing Director Rian Oberholzer ordered that Cronje be axed from the squad with an immediate effect. Furious Oberholzer stressed they do not tolerate racism in rugby at all, and that the allegations would be investigated and evaluations made as to whether there was necessity for judicial hearing about the same. Ngconde Balfour, who was the Sports Minister, welcomed the move by the coach and said that they should not taint the whole camp due to two or three cases of racism.

Recently, an incident in a playoff game happened where Anthony Mundine of St. Georges was allegedly involved in abuse. The report emphasised he was abused by professional colleague. Rugby league has been mentioned in many racial incidents, as well: for example, Billy Boston at one time admitted he was a victim of racism and had suffered a lot of racial abuse over his career of playing, but he took it lightly so as not to let it affect his sporting career (BCRE 2000, pp. 75-9). It is said that Boston was a victim of racial abuse in 1957 incident which actually affected him. Great Britain were about to travel to South Africa for a test series that were so great, the South Africa players insisted that if Boston was to travel with the team, then he would occupy his own room, separate from the rest of the players. This made him to cancel the trip (Super Sport 2009).

In a different instance, one more complaint of racism was raised to have occurred during playoffs when St. Helens were entertained by Leeds at Headings. It is Shaun McRae, the coach for St. Helens, who filed the complaint claiming that racist remarks were made towards Leeds. Speaking when addressing a press conference, McRae made an announcement that referee John Connolly had made such statement in his report. He said that they had requested for the remarks to be inserted into the report as racial slur made against one of the players (Long, Hylton, Dart & Welch 2000 p. 79). The reporter says the player alleged to have made such statements did not apologize adequately, and therefore the matter was not fully resolved. It is Leeds and the RFL to establish what exactly occurred because there was need to ensure that racism does not become a normal thing.

Although the national Rugby Team of New Zeeland is renowned for continued success, it has occasionally received claims of racism. We are told there has been arising cases of controversy in the tours to South Africa on the international stage. The 1981 tour to South Africa was the most famous for this matter. It attracted worldwide criticism since many states did boycott South Africa due to the rampant cases of apartheid (Williams 2004 pp. 111-2). Domestically, various cases of racial abuse have been witnessed in the Super Rugby Competition. In stances of discrimination have also been seen in club and college rugby.

Racialism is a very serious issue infringing the rights of players. Due to such cases of racism and apartheid in South Africa, the New Zealand Rugby Union had a policy of not selecting players who were referred to as Maori for South African tours prior to 1971. The tours were highly criticized, both internally and externally with the coining of a slogan “No Maori, No Tour” which became so prominent in New Zealand. The Human Rights Commission has recently commended this as the beginning point for campaigns meant to stop such tours. Halt All Racist Tours (HALT) (Giulianotti & Williams 2008, p. 172), which is a rugby tour group, anti-racist in nature, came out strongly to protest against future game events between New Zealand and South Africa. This pressure caused many of the tours to be called off.

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According to Jeremy Lin, racism possibly played some role in what he termed as a reaction to his growth towards his fame in New York. He goes ahead to say that there is evidence of anti-Asian racism in basketball, and were it not for that, Jeremy would have played in New York throughout his career. In the interview to GQ Magazine, Lin claimed that today there is a lot of stereotypes and perceptions of Asian-Americans which are out there (Sugden & Tomlinson 2002, p. 23). The fact he is an Asian-American causes it to be harder to believe. He boldly says that he is going play better for much more time, with an intention of wanting to make some people believe that he is an Asian.

Racism got high during basketball game for boys that were held in Pittsburgh. This resulted when fans from a school which comprises of almost all-white suburban rushed in the entire court in, wearing banana suits and shouting to their top most voices, referring their rivals as monkeys playing in African-American dominated school (Long et al. 2000, p.71). The fans besieged the Monessen players and started making loud monkey noises, and yelling racial slur at the Monessen players. Some Monessen parents allege that similar racist shouts were made by the Brentwood, referring the Greyhounds as mere cotton pickers and monkeys. It is told that, the Director of Security who was on duty failed to take necessary measures to combat the incidence, but just sat back to watch things go wrong.

Analysis UEFA 

The research question proposal seeks to answer is whether racism is still an issue in sports. Out of the great amount of literature review that has been given in preceding sub heading, it is clear that there are numerous cases of racism in various types of games all over the world. In football, the situation seems more alarming than the rest of all (Wenner 2009, pp. 203-4). The sad part of this discussion is that some high profile officials even do not agree that racism is a problem in sports. They completely deny it, arguing that there could be one or two cases of discrimination, but that does not warrant them to term it a serious challenge.

We have noted that when the FIFA President Sepp Blatter was asked whether racism was a real problem in the pitch, Blatter denied it in CNN World Sport. He plainly claimed that there is no racism at all. All he said is that there could be some sort of friction between some players but that does not amount to racism (Super Sport 2010). This statement is so ridiculous since we know very well that football has for long been surrounded with continuous cases of discrimination.

We have seen black (African) and Asian players being racially mistreated by their counterparts. Apart from Sepp Blatter, Angel Villa Liona (President of the Spanish FA and UEFA’s Executive Committee) also echoed similar words. When UEFA took an initiative of fining the Spanish FA following racial abuse of an Italian player by fans from Spain, Dani Alves spoke out openly that is so hard to control racism in Spain. However, Angel Villa Liona emphasized that racism was not a problem. There is a denial by officials that a perpetration of racial prejudice is in this sport.

Apart from football, other sports facing racial challenges include rugby, basketball, athletics, and handball among others. In rugby, we meet various cases of racism across the world. New Zealand is among the teams that perform so well in rugby. However, racism has tainted its image. In the early years of 70s, black players were greatly condemned by their counterparts (Jarvie 2001, p. 67). Asian-American players also received their share of blow. We are made to understand that team rarely visited South Africa due to what was termed as alarming cases of racism, especially those days.

In the Super Rugby Competition, New Zealand has five teams. The competition is powerfully contested between this country, South Africa and Australia. Although there has been significant success in the exercise, racism has plagued off some teams. New Zealand is a diverse nation characterized by the wide cultural background and the management of the Super Rugby teams does reflect this. We are told that the issue has nothing to do with the policies and actions of the teams, but rather is a stereotype behaviour perpetrated by the ageing supporters of the same. Racial slur is a common disease amongst the ageing fans of rugby.

In addition, a certain tour to South Africa that took place in 1981 was very controversial. There exploded protests all over the nation of New Zealand. Many of these descended into violence and almost divided the nation into two sides that were opposing each other. There were more than two hundred protests, with about fifteen hundred of them being arrested. The protest was not purely based on rugby but also on moral values and societal structure. Such protest campaigns did galvanize and strengthen the anti-racist movement in New Zealand.

In the year 2010, a suggestion was issued that the policy of selection of teams followed by the Crusaders Racial Selection Policy was itself enhancing perpetration of racism. It was alleged that the above policy advocated for inclusion of only three non-European players. This accusation was made by Andy Haden, pointing out that this policy allowed the Crusaders to racially discriminate in the sense that they could select various races based on their suitability to various positions (Eastman & Billings 2001, p.198). The players, as well as the Prime Minister, rejected those allegations and even now the debate still goes on. Regardless of whether this holds water or not, it has helped point out that not all players are equal in skill and the high chance that racism is still practiced at the decision-making level of clubs.

We have many cases of racism in basketball. It is reported by media from the Pittsburgh Brentwood High School: the basketball competition which takes place annually between Brentwood High, Monessen and Pittsburgh High turned chaotic. This arose when two teams headed to their rooms after the halftime break: three supporters from the Brentwood ran onto the pitch covering themselves with banana suits. These stereotyped fans besieged the players from the Brentwood High and began hurling shouts of words that were purely full of racial sentiments. They were calling them monkeys! It is astonishing that although the security director was available, he never made any attempts to restore order. A parent from Monessen high was shocked that no one was doing anything to stop the behaviour (Lapchick 2001, p.41). Calling such names like “cotton pickers and monkeys” to the opponents is a high degree of manifesting racism. A staff writer from Valley Independent whose name is Jeremy Sellew said that Joseph Kozarian, who was charged with administration of security in Brentwood, was on duty at the game (Back, Crabbe & Solomos 2011, pp. 89-91). Nevertheless, he negligently failed to execute his mandate. It is claimed that the security director was seen seated somewhere at the back and at times he smiled and laughed with the fans.

A number of policies have been put in place to combat the racism in sports. These measures have to help somehow reduce the incidences. UEFA has strengthened its measures against discrimination, and increased partnership with other bodies like FIFPro to actively support campaigns meant to banish this vice from football. The governing body for the European football has too partnered with the Football against Racism in Europe (FARE) network. They cooperate to condemn racial discrimination in the continent (Armstrong 2009, p. 276).

UEFA has allocated significant financial support to the FARE, with both bodies staging events and doing publications in the biggest football matches in Europe. This is meant to advocate a message of no tolerance for all sorts of discrimination and racism. UEFA makes use of its Premier Club competitions on every October to stress its strong stand against racism. Teams are accompanied onto the court by children wearing T-shirts labelled “Unite against Racism”. Captains of the teams are required to wear armbands indicated “Unite Against Racism”, as well.

Quite a number of racism issues have been reported in Europe and other parts of the world. As a result, measures have been put into place, with others being underway on how to combat racism in sports. While there are such policies and many others coming up, most people still feel that much needs to be done if we are to succeed in the war against racism in sports.

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David Cameron, the Prime Minister, has recently urged FA to do much more in the anti- racism fight. According to David Cameron, FA has not succeeded to set up policies and structures necessary to fight racism (Telegraph Sport 2012). The Prime Minister demanded that tougher measures be outlined by Football Association together with other authorities to resolve the problem of racism which has stained the reputation of the game. The Prime Minister and other senior government officials do not believe the issue has received adequate confrontation was revealed when Kenny Dalgish (the Liverpool Manager) admitted that Luis Suarez case was mishandled.

Hugh Robertson, Sports Minister, said that football authorities were expected to come forward with a concise plan of action on what can be done to combat racism in football game. The Prime Minister intervened in the matter by convening a summit for anti-discrimination for significant football figures that also include the FA Chairperson David Bernstein. It is in this summit that he gave demands for everyone to rally round to kill the shaming return of racism in football game (Lapchick 2001, p. 41). This shows that at least there are some policies being imposed to combat discrimination in football game.

Cameron demanded an inquiry by the Media, Sport and Culture select committee, which gave its findings on the response of the interim FA. The chairman of the committee, John Whittingdale MP, was quoted saying, “More needs to be done to increase the diversity of the pool of candidates for caches and referees, to embed the values of equality and diversity at all levels of the game” (Telegraph Sport 2012).

A research conducted in European countries has established a number of policy measures that have been undertaken to combat racism in EU Member States. Apart from the general legal provisions meant to combat discrimination and racism which exist in Member States of EU, a good number of Member States has come up with legal provisions which are specific regarding sport. Equality bodies, as well as other preventive institutions like National Human Rights Institutions, take immediate action in cases of ethnic discrimination and racist incidents. However, seemingly this has not yielded much fruits as the research established that only sixteen National Equality Bodies are active in tackling matters of racism and ethnic discrimination. It is also noted that out of those Equality Bodies only eight of them have shown intervention in tackling the racist cases.

Regarding the under-representation of ethnic minorities at various stages of sport, some anti-discrimination actions and regulations that were put in place by the national sport federation have not led to any negative sanction so far. No affirmative measures that are compulsive have yet been imposed in any Member States, as well. Generally, measures like improving diversity and reinforcing awareness, effective monitoring, and stronger regulation among others have been emphasized (Wenner 2009, pp. 34). Nevertheless, there is a lot to be done if racist crime and ethnic discrimination is to be combated in sport.

Strong penalties are imposed on any player who tries to perpetrate racial discrimination. We have seen some players from England bear heavy fines due to the issue. Players like John Terry served match bans in addition to heavy fines. All these and many other policies have been put in place to address the issue of racism. However, the policies do not seem to bear much fruits and much is required. Our null hypothesis is therefore rejected because we can see that racism is still a problem in sports.


Racism has somehow gone down in English football, but it has not gone away. Out of the literature review that has been conducted and the analysis of the same, it comes clearly that racism is still a major problem in sports, especially in football. This helps to answer our research question. It has been established that racism is still high, with some officials perpetuating it indirectly. Although some of these top level officials seem to deny it, the paper has established that some stereotype fans still perpetuate it. The proposal has established that a number of structures and policies have been put in place to combat racism including heavy fines and establishment of bodies like FARE. Nevertheless, these structures have not performed to the expectation and much is still required.

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