COVID-19, racism, proves the importance of sport

By April 08, 2020

I’ve complained bitterly about the need for sports administrators to stop trying to get sports re-started as quickly as possible for fear that any such act, done too quickly, will lend itself to endangering the athletes and those they love.

I thought that administrators had been looking at it all wrong. In delaying decisions to postpone or cancel an event, they have forced athletes to continue training for that event. The fact that they must continue to train puts the athlete at risk of contracting COVID-19.

That line of argument went out the window when two French scientists promoted the idea that the testing ground for a new Coronavirus vaccine be Africa.

I was incensed.

But after the initial annoyance had worn off, I made a link between the restart of sport and the continued smashing of long-held, dangerous, perceptions.

Sport has been one of the foremost grounds for tackling injustice and inequality that this world has seen.

It is most often in the sporting arena where your background, your history, your political ideologies, count for the least.

Over many decades, sport has systematically attempted to become a place where the idea of a meritocracy is most real.

It isn’t real in life because the power has always been in the hands of a very few and they wield it with unerring indifference to anything that does not serve their purpose.

Over time, the athlete has come to the bargaining table by making it clear that without him or her, there is nothing. No fans, no money, nothing.

The latest arena where this battle has been fought is in that of gender equality, where women have stood up to say “hang on a minute, why am I not paid like the men, why is my contribution paid scant regard?”

And they have a point.

But even if they didn’t, the fact that without them, the entire thing collapses, means they have to be heard.

The same thing rings true of attempts to stamp racism from sport. The athlete, of whatever race, has wielded his power to say, “we will not play under unequal circumstances. We will not play when there is prejudice, in whatever form.”

Those realisations have led me to reconsider the idea that sports administrators shouldn’t be trying to restart sports as quickly as they are.

They should.

Sport is more than just a test of physical and mental superiority over an opponent. It is a litmus test for society. It shows society the direction it should be going in and to boot, it has the kind of unifying impact, seldom seen by any other endeavour.

For that reason, let’s get our ‘heroes’, for that is what the modern-day sportsperson has become, stand on the frontlines of a return to normalcy in the face of arguably, the most debilitating challenge faced by mankind in the 21st century.

Now the sportsperson must stand in the face of COVID-19 and say, “you have changed our world, but we’ll be damned if you stop us from trying to make it a better place.”

I remember reading or watching, I can’t remember which, ‘Fire in Babylon’, a depiction on the rise of West Indies cricket in the 1980s. More important to me than the details of how they did it and the massiveness of the achievement, relative to every sporting achievement ever had by a team, was the reason they did it.

The West Indians at the time wanted to show a couple of things. They wanted to prove they were every bit as good as their counterparts the world over, and they wanted to show the Caribbean how powerful it could be if they were unified. 

Those reasons made their achievements over the course of a decade and a bit, much bigger than sport.

Jackie Robinson becoming the first black Major League player was more than sport. His achievements in Major League Baseball had very little to do with the league or the sport, it was about destroying negative perceptions about the black man.

And so, I hope sport restarts quickly and tells these scientists willing to use a particular set of people as guinea pigs, where to shove it.

Paul-Andre Walker

Paul-Andre is the Managing Editor at SportsMax.tv. He comes to the role with almost 20 years of experience as journalist. That experience includes all facets of media. He began as a sports Journalist in 2001, quickly moving into radio, where he was an editor before becoming a news editor and then an entertainment editor with one of the biggest media houses in the Caribbean.

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    Leon Bailey is undoubtedly the most successful player in the recent history of Jamaica’s football and there may be some truth to some of the ‘charges’ he recently levelled at the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF), however, lambasting your national organization is a no-no.

    I do not want to get into the wrongs or rights of the statements, however, the JFF’s history is replete with players of varying levels of professional experience complaining about some of the very same things Bailey seems to take umbrage with.

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    I do not believe the JFF wants to get into a battle of words with a player and have rightly sought to remind Mr Bailey of his professional responsibilities with a ‘gag order’.

    I put gag order in quotes because I believe that no such order will be given to Bailey, but that the JFF is attempting to publicly make it known that the organization would not be putting up with that kind of behaviour.

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    But controlling sports teams, especially national teams, is a funny thing.

    It is not like running an organization with employees who have contracts and are firable, which once done legally, has very little impact on the organization, even in the case of a good employee.

    Let us say, that the JFF reached out to Bailey quietly and asked him what the issues were and sought to find common ground.

    Here is what I fear would happen.

    Now, players in growing numbers start believing that they can just say what they feel, regardless of their platform when doing so.

    That, just like the chopping and changing that Butler and Bailey speak about, will have a deleterious effect on team building.

    For example, one can look at the French team that imploded at the 2010 World Cup under famous former French player, Raymond Domenech.

    It is safe to say the players did not want Domenech leading them anymore and went through a sort of revolt which Zinedine Zidane, arguably the country’s greatest player, foreshadowing the implosion by saying the coach had lost the dressing room.

    Theodore Whitmore is, as far as I am aware, respected by his players, but how long will that last if public criticisms of his knowledge and/or competence as a coach are questioned openly without a response?

    If the JFF had not responded, Whitmore would be well on his way to losing that dressing room.

    Playing for a coach means having the confidence that he knows what he is doing, even if you don’t agree with his methodologies.

    A team is not the players and then the administration and coach, an addendum. The team is all of the above.

    This means Whitmore is part of that team and one of the most important parts in the success of that team is trust.

    You have to trust your coach and public comments disparaging his methods do not engender trust.

    The JFF, on the other hand, have to fix the years of mistrust between themselves and players by earnestly reaching out to them. Letting them know if there are financial problems that make it difficult to pay them, if they are having trouble getting games, whatever is an issue that if not communicated properly, could be taken in the wrong way. In other words, the JFF needs to understand that it is part of the team as well and comments by president Michael Ricketts that the JFF cannot cause the team to be eliminated from World Cup qualifications suggests the head of the organization does not see himself as part of the team.

    The JFF is part of the team, win, lose or draw.

    Not being able to kick the ball into the goal or make a tackle that saves one has nothing to do with being part of the team and the JFF boss and all future ‘bosses’ need to begin to see themselves as part of the team.

    That way, whatever the way forward, Jamaica’s football will tackle it as a team.

     

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