Sport and Culture

Times Change But Some Attitudes Stay the Same

The last few weeks have provided a stark reminder that cultural outlooks and sport are inextricably linked when it comes to the blight of racism. While racist gibes at sporting events can often be limited to the mindless few recent events in two far-flung corners of the globe suggest that certain national attitudes refuse to evolve. In Russia, Ufa midfielder Emmanuel Frimpong reacted angrily to Spartak Moscow’s supporters as a result of their making repeated monkey noises at him and was subsequently sent off. The fact that only the actions of former Arsenal player Frimpong were punished while the lobotomised sections of the crowd escaped censure show just how seriously the Russian Football Union are tackling the problem of racism in their domestic game. Annoyingly, Frimpong’s experience is neither novel nor surprising –indeed Congolese defender Christopher Samba suffered a similar fate last year when he reacted inappropriately to fans incessant abuse and had to be substituted at half-time due to his distressed nature- but the fact that the RFU have, on this occasion, completely exonerated the racist element in the crowd smacks of a worrying display of institutional apathy.

Brazilian striker Hulk, of Zenit St. Petersburg, has already voiced his concerns at the level of racism which he fears will prevail at the 2018 World Cup but one wonders and worries if the Russian authorities care enough to first acknowledge the problem and latterly deal with it. Russia did not wake up a racist country and it would take a fool to suggest that the geniuses on the terraces can be enlightened in less than three years. Further, and this must be noted with emphasis, racism is not a problem confined to Russia but its prevalence in Russian football –a better measure of the attitudes of the masses than most- make one wonder just how accurate a reflection this is of Russian attitudes. On a human level, the mass tirades of racism aimed at black players are disgusting and on a greater global level one wonders how a country should be awarded soccer, and sport’s, greatest tournament when their own domestic game is so grossly intolerant of foreign, and particularly African players. The recent events are not shocking –to say as much would be disingenuous- and perhaps that is the most jarring aspect of all.

Equally dismaying is the controversy presently surrounding Australian Rules football and indeed Australian cultural attitudes. Sydney Swans star forward Adam Goodes, a proud, vocal Indigenous Australian, has been subjected to mass racist abuse –thinly veiled as standard Australian ‘banter’- for having the temerity to celebrate his ethnicity while challenging boorish, ignorant ‘Stralian football fans for their dim, narrow-minded views. As a result, he has taken a self-imposed break from the game and is seriously mulling over the idea of bringing the curtain down permanently on a storied career.

The furore surrounding the two-time Bronwlow Medal winner -incidentally won by the extraordinary Jim Stynes in 1991- which doubles as a piss-weak excuse for demonising Goodes dates back to 2013, when he took exception with a 13-year-old girl calling him an “ape”, leading to her ejection from the MCG. The youngster apologised and Goodes openly accepted her remorse, but it’s probably fair to say that her remark was somewhat unknowing and more the result of an environment where racism is commonplace. Kids don’t usually lick their behavioural traits off the grass. Fans took Goodes to task for essentially picking on a child, rather than looking at the bigger question of why a child is yelling a racial slur at a brilliantly talented, thoughtful sportsman.

The pot really came to the boil a fortnight ago when Goodes’ teammate Lewis Jetta –also an Indigenous Australian- celebrated a goal by recreating an Indigenous war dance and throwing an imaginary spear at a section of the anti-Goodes, Perth crowd. Critics –see latent racists- described Jetta’s act as inflammatory, which seems perplexing as New Zealand’s famed haka, itself an ancient Maori war dance is lauded the world over. How is it not patently clear that the angered response of the crowd to Jetta’s celebration is a perfect example of the ignorance and disrespect shown by some Australians toward an ancient, proud culture? Indigenous players booed when they embrace their culture? For Christ’s sake, join the dots.

Goodes has plenty of risible traits –like Cristiano Ronaldo he’s immensely talented but is deemed to milk free kicks through deception- and if the crowd ribbed him on this basis one could understand. Quality players, particularly flamboyant players –think Ronaldo, Chris Ashton, Lar Corbett, Deion Sanders-  have been hated in a sporting context, in itself a backhanded compliment, by opposition fans the world over, since time immemorial. That Australians are hiding behind this excuse is ridiculous and frankly insulting. Indeed, on a separate occasion –and there are many- a fan was ejected after not so sagely advising Goodes to, “Get back to the zoo!”. The fans riposte was to cast the statement off as “banter”, a word that is irksome when used flippantly and incorrectly to describe insulting comments. To further his case he absurdly decried the situation as, “political correctness gone mad”.

The sad part of all this is that many in Australia would agree with this bogan. Even Australian cricket legend, Shane Warne, rather dimwittedly seems to think that Goodes is subjected to abuse because, strictly in a football sense, fans don’t like the way he plays and carries himself. We’re probably giving Warne more credit than he deserves, but this was in effect the gist of what he was saying. Social media, and namely Twitter –home of the instantaneous, badly thought out opinion- rightly, on this occasion, jumped down Warne’s throat. Again Warne’s attitude typifies the view of many Australians. Not for a second are we saying he is a racist but he, like many others, is unaware that this perceived banter and gamesmanship are bare-faced racism.

Unsurprisingly, an opinion has sprouted –championed by News Limited columnist and political commentator Andrew Bolt, who was found to have breached the Racial Discrimination Act in 2009 for two articles he produced in 2009- that Goodes behaviour has actually been inflammatory, piqued by his own war dance in the Indigenous Round and to quell the controversy he should refrain from celebrating his culture. How could this stance be any further from reason? Multiculturalism demands acceptance and integration in order to foster appreciation. Customs should be shared and celebrated. We are clearly outsiders looking in, and an Australian could very well tell us to ‘piss-off down from our Irish high-horse’ but you don’t need to be heavily immersed in Australian culture to realise that Adam Goodes is being pilloried for being proud, open, thoughtful and challenging.

Billionaire businessman James Packer, had this to say, “He’s (Goodes) an Australian of the Year, I think he’s an amazing role model and to hear people booing him is something that I’m ashamed of as an Australian.” Despite perceptions to the contrary, it seems times have not changed for an alarming number of Australians. It’s 2015 and racism is sadly alive, kicking and thanks, as ever, to ignorance prospering.

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