Racism is still seen today throughout many parts of the world and is an ongoing problem that many people have tried to put an end to. In sports; however, racism is blatantly clear. Soccer in recent years has seen increased racism. On February 17, 2015, Chelsea FC fans pushed a passenger of the opposing team they were playing against off of a Paris train, stating that there was not enough room. After the black man was pushed off the train, Chelsea FC fans then began, “chanting about World War II, along with shouts of ‘We’re racist, and we like it'” . This whole incident was recorded on film and when Chelsea heard about it, they made a statement saying they would look in to banning any members involved. Although it may seem that sports teams are making conscious efforts to fight racism, it is simply not enough. Soccer is considered the world’s sport, but something that belongs to the world should not be associated with racism. Despite efforts to end racism in sports, racism in society must come to an end, to diminish racism everywhere else. This article raises questions as to whether racism is always going to be a problem in sports because of the immense amount of competition that comes along with it.
The racist instances experienced all throughout sports in recent years have not come without historical relevance. Racism around the world is nothing new, but when it comes to sports, racism has always been a problem. This racism is likely the outcome of the period in time when the color line was broken in sports. Jackie Robinson signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946 ultimately set the foundation for blacks integrating with other races in sports. The roots of this not only lie in the color barrier being broken, but more deeply in the history of blacks and whites being segregated for hundreds of years. While African Americans in countries all around the world tried for years to end segregation, it was evident that was not going to happen anytime soon. Countries such as South Africa, enforced racial segregation and they were not going to make any exceptions when it came to sports. during this time period, African Americans were considered and ‘inferior race,’ so people believed that because of this, blacks were not worthy, or of the same athletic ability as other races. Post World War II attitudes caused the rise of civil rights movements that consequently set the stage for integration in sports. In reality, racial segregation policies were extremely brutal and caused much resistance from countries such as Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Britain against South Africa. In turn, these countries and many more were the driving force that helped to integrate different races of people in to the same sports and stop the seemingly never ending battle that is racism.
To begin, the legacy of race and racism go back for hundreds of years and that played a huge role in regards to racism in sports all throughout the 20th century. In particular, the legacy and history of antisemitism is what sparked racism all around the world. After the Franco-Prussian War in 1880, France began experiencing mass amounts of political antisemitism. Even before the war took place, “Ideology during 1860 through 1890 on Jews was based upon a conspiracy theory that ‘could always “prove” that any misfortune was the work of Jews, even in the absence of evidence’” . The aftermath of the war caused Jews to be manipulated by public opinion. Jews made up a huge portion of the working class and had control over world capitalism, so they made for any easy target to be manipulated by the public. In the period after 1880 as times began to change and modernize, “[there was a] connection between new fears uprising from conditions of modernity and old European hatreds that for centuries targeted Jews as the killers of Christ” . Jews were not only seen as a plague to society, but many people saw them as a physical danger as well as a political threat because of their place in the working class. Peoples’ negative opinions of Jews gradually began getting more intense which led to the ghetto isolation of them. In the end, the roots of antisemitism yield the latter half of the 20th Century when the shift of racism moved toward ‘immigrants’ or black people.
In addition, as racism started becoming blatantly clear in the world of sports, African Americans began realizing that they could make a positive change. Jackie Robinson was of the first to make the historic break of the color line in major league baseball that was heard all around the world. In 1945, the general manager of the Red Sox, Eddie Collins, was urged by Boston City Councilor Isadore Muchnick, to start the process of integrating major league baseball teams. Years before this, Eddie Collins was accused of preventing African Americans from trying out for his team, but he denied those charges. Collins then stated that, “he never received a single request for tryout by a colored applicant” . With threats from Muchnick; however, Collins agreed to have an integrated tryout where Jackie Robinson, Marvin Williams, and Sam Jethroe attended. After the tryout took place, then men were told that they would hear from Collins soon, but they never did. Two years after this historic tryout, news broke of Jackie Robinson making the Brooklyn Dodgers and having his first major league appearance in 1947. It was evident that while other teams began accepting African Americans after Jackie Robinson broke the color line, the Red Sox were still against interracial sports teams. People in the mid-1900’s still believed that African Americans did not have the same athletic ability as whites and could not compete at such a high level. “Major league baseball profited from segregation”  which is what mainly yielded teams from accepting African Americans at first. Negro teams rented the fields they played on from major league teams, so if teams began integrating then there would be a loss of money. Regardless, these color line transformations gave inciteful information that could be used to teach the role culture played in sport-wide racism and the rise it gave to Civil Rights Movements.
As color lines in sports began to disappear, a change in culture started taking place in countries around the world. Mexico was of the first where this culture change was evident. In the early 1900s, Mexico had a burdened reputation for crime that ensued as they expressed a sense of backwardness as a society. However, when dictator Dorfir Diaz came to power, Mexico shifted from a backward country to a progressive civilization. Diaz wanted respect from leading nations which is what initially drove him to change the overall culture of Mexico. Revolutionary violence; however, yielded this full cultural change while Diaz was still in power, but what came from this revolutionary disorder was, “[a] renaissance in artistic expression and folklore appreciation” . Helen Delpar made a comment on the matter of Mexico’s changing society and, “instead of being a backward country full of bandits as many imagined, [Mexico] was now seen as a nation full of culture” . Because of this new-found culture in Mexico, they were asked to host the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. From there on out, Mexico’s central promotional strategy for the Olympic Games was to alter the negative stereotype associated with Mexico’s native people and change the view of racial “mixture” as a positive instead of a negative. Mexico’s native people were now seen as authentic and no longer a burden while the European faces were seen as progress to a new cosmopolitan. Lastly, although it may have seemed like the world was starting to change for the better and racial differences were being diminished, what ensued at the Olympic Games was something unprecedented.
Furthermore, as the 1968 Olympic Games approached, student protests erupted in Mexico City. Hundreds of people were killed which gave this frightful event the name of the Tlatelolco Massacre. The Mexican government; however, wanted the games to be clean and put on this façade that Mexico was an ideal country with no faults, so they hid the massacre from the rest of the world with great success. The Olympic Games then went as arranged, except for the revolutionary actions of two American entrants in the 200-meter dash, Tommie Smith and John Carlos. “Their plan was inspired by Harry Edward’s Olympic Project for Human Rights which had originally called for an Olympic boycott by all black athletes” . They both ran the 200-meter dash with Smith getting first place and Carlos getting third place. When they mounted the victory stand they held up their black gloved fists as The Star Spangled Banner played in the background. The men also had beads around their neck to symbolize the deaths of thousands of African Americans all around the world. This event shocked the world, “and [because of this] Carlos and Smith were treated like terrorists, as if their fists were guns and they had fired them” . However, this event was seen as a victory for the African American community. In carrying out this silent protest against racism in sports, Carlos and Smith’s voices were clearly heard. Their black gloved fists not only stood for black injustice in regards to sports, “but it saluted black power and black unity” . Tommie Smith and John Carlos were both stripped of their medals and sent home after this historic event, but their stripped medals did not hide the fact that they were going to make their voices heard. Overall, because of Carlos and Smith’s incredible courage to silently speak out in front of the world while putting their athletic careers on the line to stand up for racial discrimination in sports and in society, many other countries around the world were inspired to create change when it came to segregation in sports.
Figure 1: Tommie Smith and John Carlos, gold and bronze medalists in the 200-meter run at the 1968 Olympic Games, engage in a victory stand protest against unfair treatment of blacks in the United States.
Thus, for black athletes, the post 1968 Olympic Games were a time of unprecedented civil rights activism by many black sports figures. Black athletes were involved in black freedom movements that drew attention to the battle of racism in society and in sports that African Americans were suffering from every day. Arthur Ashe was one of the most well-known black activists who played a role in sports and politics in 1968. On September 15, 1968, CBS’s Face the Nation invited Arthur Ashe on their show to discuss his political views on the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, and the role of black athletes in society. This show was televised nationwide and Ashe received much praise for his courage to go on the show and speak on behalf of the African American community. In turn, the South African government became aware of Ashe’s international activism and in March 1969, “Prime Minister B.J. Vorster personally rejected Ashe’s request for a visa to compete in the South African Open” . The South African government stated they denied his visa because of his overall disapproval to apartheid, but many believe that South Africa rejected him because of the color of his skin. Ashe then used his athletic status to fight against this injustice to the Davis Cup Committee, the United Nations, U.S. Congress, and the ILTF. This resulted in action being taken against south Africa and, “near the end of 1969, a collection of international sports bodies, including the International Olympic Committee, removed South Africa from almost all world sporting events” . This was a monumental victory for Ashe and black activism overall. This incident was the driving force for Arthur Ashe to focus on apartheid activism in South Africa because it affected him personally. In the end, Arthur Ashe’s contributions to the African American community in the aspect of sports sparked upset in other countries against South Africa as they started to take Ashe’s side on the views of apartheid.
Figure 2: Arthur Ashe addressing the Special Committee on the policies of apartheid of the government of the republic of South Africa.
Moreover, the history of South Africa plays a vast role in understanding apartheid and why it was present in South Africa for so long. This country was well known worldwide for its excellence in the sporting arena. South Africa was of the first to establish horse-racing in 1802. Many more additional sports prospered as well such as rugby, golf, boxing, and cycling. By the time the national party came into power; however, segregation between groups of athletes had already advanced. The apartheid during this time limited sports teams from being multiracial because the thought was that if it was illegal for blacks and whites to mix in society, then it was illegal for them to mix and compete with each other as well. Many people believed that, “apartheid was the hurdle to integrate sports”  because of its complexity in South Africa. There were numerous laws associated with the apartheid such as the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act of 1953, where owners of properties such as sporting amenities, could prohibit racial groups from entering. The Group Areas Act of 1966 split South Africa into segregated areas based on race which caused black athletes to suffer because they could not journey to competitions that were outside of their segregated areas. For years, apartheid has controlled black involvement in sports and when a survey was conducted in one of South Africa’s four provinces, “in 40% of sports registered, no black participation was recorded” . These numbers caused vast unrest in the black community not only in sports, but in society as well where African Americans had an unequal disadvantage. Consequently, not a decade past without apartheid being the central focus for the African American community’s resistance to its rule.
Additionally, although western nations disapproved of interracial sports teams, the South African government became the only supporter of segregation by the late 1960’s. They felt as though their own racial views were more important than the principle ideals of sports. South Africa also stated that there was evidence to conclude that interracial mixing in sports would cause social stress and racial tension. They believed that if blacks and whites could not get along in society overall, then it would be impossible for them to do so while they are intensely competing with each other. Because of this, only white officials could appear for international federations on behalf of South Africa. As time went on, it seemed as though African Americans voices were not being heard and people were accepting propaganda that black people were in fact not interested in playing sports or they fell victim to conditions that in other peoples’ eyes, were only the faults of their own making. When South Africa reported on Jake Ntuli’s boxing victory in the British Empire flyweight competition in 1951, “the New Zealand Free Lance noted that the ‘pint-sized zulu boy’ was a role model ‘to millions of black men whose opportunities in life are restricted by poverty’” . South African emphasis on the word “poverty” added to their preexisting thoughts of superiority over African Americans. They wanted to subtly show that blacks were an inferior race and they needed to know that. However, in 1963, a chairman of South Africa’s Non-Racial Olympic Committee, Dennis Brutus advocated for the people of the Olympic Movement to join him and many others to fight for interracial sports. When the International Olympic Committee received Brutus’s requests, “the I.O.C.’s member in New Zealand, Arthur Porritt, dismissed Brutus as a ‘well known trouble-maker’” . In the end, it seemed as though African Americans voices were never going to be heard in a country whose policies were solely focused around apartheid.
Figure 3: Protest erupts after South Africa becomes the only supporter of segregation in sports in the 1960’s.
Likewise, as nations began working against South Africa to end racial segregation in sports, other nations followed suit. In 1976, Egypt and Morocco were 2 of the over 20 countries that withdrew from the Olympic Games. This boycott was comprised of almost the entire African continent. Only 3 out of the 27 African nations that initially planned to play in the games were remaining. This exemplified that the hard work and dedication of black athletes to make a change in racially segregated sports was ultimately starting to pay off. New Zealand’s government; however, was encouraging a rugby team to travel to South Africa to play despite their radical racial policies. Jean-Claude Ganga, Congo Republic Delegate, helped create this Olympic boycott and stated that he did not understand New Zealand’s reasoning on sending athletes to South Africa and thinks that New Zealand should send their sports teams back home. More nations then began dropping out of the Olympic Games because of New Zealand’s trip to South Africa which prompted Ganga to state, “that just deploring apartheid is not enough” . He believes by New Zealand going to South Africa, they are giving them exactly what they want which is a sports team to play against. Ganga believes if countries isolate themselves from South Africa, then they will have no choice but to get rid of their radical apartheid policies. However, New Zealand does not see eye to eye with Ganga in the slightest. They believe the best way to deal with racial discrimination in sports in South Africa is bringing interracial teams to that country that are good to show South Africa it is possible to have successful interracial sports teams. Lance Cross, a New Zealand member of the I.O.C. believes, “we need to talk to South Africa before we can do anything about apartheid” . Nations isolating themselves from South Africa in Cross’s eyes, is just going to cause massive conflict in the end. Regardless of whether one county believes isolation is the key to end racism in South Africa or whether bringing interracial teams to South Africa is the key, both sides share a common foundation in that apartheid in South Africa needs to be stopped.
Consequently, on March 23, 1970, South Africa was prohibited from participating in the Davis Cup tennis competition, whereas Rhodesia was allowed to compete. Robert B. Colwell of Seattle stated, “It was felt that South African participation would endanger the carrying out of the competition” . One of the main reasons South Africa was banned from the tournament that year was because there would have been teams they were not allowed to play. That past year Czechoslovakia and Poland refused to play South Africa because of their racial politics and segregation of players. Also, four bombs had went off during a tennis series with South Africa and Britain and people were afraid it was going to happen again. In the newspaper it also stated that, “The United States move was triggered by the South African Government’s refusal to grant Arthur Ashe, the American Negro star, a visa to play there” . South Africa did not allow mixed competition which is why so many people became infuriated with the matter and demanded South Africa be prohibited from competing. This newspaper was written in a time when there was still much racism occurring, but people were finally starting to take a stance against it to demolish racism. Many reported in the newspaper that the Ashe incident was not the main reason for South Africa not being able to compete, but it is clear to see that was one of the main factors in deciding based on their apartheid policies. Rhodesia on the other hand was invited to compete because they were finally able to prove that colored men were playing with them in tournaments and not just being benched. This was hard news for South Africa to hear that they could not compete as they were not able to compete in the last Olympic Games and the soccer World Cup that summer because of their radical racial views and politics. This incident exemplified the changing positive attitudes of other nations toward interracial sports teams and the fight to diminish racism in sport and society altogether.
In conclusion, the historical relevance of racism revealed the racist actions of countries, such as South Africa, not only in society, but in sports as well. Not only did Jackie Robinson’s break in the color barrier give rise to change in segregated sports teams, but activists such as Arthur Ashe, Tommie Smith, and John Carlos made people realize that segregated sports teams were unfair and something that needed to be left in the past. South Africa being the only country with segregated sports teams in the late 1960’s, felt that blacks and whites were being segregated for their own good even though that was not the case. Many other countries worked to change this seemingly never ending stereotype in South Africa by refusing to play them in sporting events. South Africa’s brutal apartheid policies caused counties such as Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Britain to act against them. The efforts of these countries not only helped to set the foundation to create a universal negative view toward apartheid, but these efforts also became the driving force in ending racial segregation in sports all around the world.
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Figure 1. Tommie Smith and John Carlos, gold and bronze medalists in the 200-meter run at the 1968 Olympic Games, engage in a victory stand protest against unfair treatment of blacks in the United States, https://theundefeated.com/features/john-carlos-and-tommie-smith-say-carmelo-anthony-is-poised-to-carry-the-torch/.
Figure 2. Arthur Ashe addressing the Special Committee on the policies of apartheid of the government of the republic of South Africa, http://africanactivist.msu.edu/image.php?objectid=32-131-443.
Figure 3. Protest Erupts after South Africa becomes the only supporter of segregation in sports in the 1960’s, http://www.biography.com/people/arthur-ashe-9190544.