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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