Racism in sport: Why the media misses the point

January 15, 2021
Image: Green Left

When Indian cricketers Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj reported racist abuse during the recent Sydney test match, Australia’s ugly racism hit the headlines again.

The most racist media outlets questioned whether the abuse had actually happened. The less racist outlets tried to blur the incident, drawing parallels between racist abuse and sledging — a cricketing term for verbal insults aimed at distracting the opposition.

Tracey Holmes, the ABC’s sports journalist, probably had the best establishment position. 

“Racism happens in Australian sport because there is racism in Australia,” she said bluntly on January 12.

She went on: “In a predominantly white society, with a domination of white voices setting the daily news agenda, it is not a white person’s place to decide what is racist and what isn’t.”

She’s right. But without a class analysis she didn’t draw any conclusions about why victims of racism are rarely believed, nor how institutionalised racism has not only destroyed the careers of professional sports people, it has also destroyed the lives of many.

Sports commentators are well aware of the insidious nature of racism in sport. First Nations’ player Adam Goodes, a Brownlow medallist and former Sydney Swans footballer, has featured in debates and documentaries about the topic. Goodes spent three years being booed and racially vilified, until he was forced into early retirement in 2015.

Last year, the ABC ran a feature-length story on the persecution, which started some 40 years ago, of another First Nations’ footballer, the former St Kilda player Robert Muir. Racism destroyed Muir’s career, it also nearly ended his life.

Few, however, draw the conclusion that the same injustices Muir faced are at play for all First Nation’s communities.

Institutionalised racism, a legacy of colonialism, is the cause of so much poverty, a shorter life expectancy and less quality of life for this country’s First Nation's peoples today. Racism is also the context for the high levels of infant mortality, blindness, deafness, diabetes and liver disease they suffer.

From 1788 until today, First Nations’ peoples are still having to fight against corporation’s wilful destruction of their land and for their children not to be taken away.

Refugees and asylum seekers suffer similar vilification, portrayed as “illegals” or “invaders” coming to steal land and jobs. It is shameful that the racist scapegoating of a tiny minority is promoted (albeit in different ways) by both major parties.

The establishment media reflects the ideology of those who rule society. Rulers benefit from racism and sexism (and all the “isms”) because they keep us divided and stop us from working together against exploitation and injustices and challenge the system.

Racism has its historical roots in the development of capitalism. Just as racism helped enable the emerging capitalist class of medieval Europe to accumulate the capital to plunder the native Americas, so today it serves the interests of those in power who use racism to divide workers and deflect anger, especially when times are tough.

Racism in sport, and more broadly against First Nations peoples, won’t end while it remains one of the bedrocks of a system which relies on a layer of super-exploited workers.

The mainstream media, even those who call out racism, won’t explain that because it would involve challenging the hand that feeds it.

Unlike the big media, we have no reason not to challenge and expose the injustices of the capitalist system. And unlike the big media, we don’t rely on paid sponsors and advertising. We rely on you.

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