Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The Politics of Sport - Their Game. Their Rules.

By Shane Thomas

It's important to start with this. Malky Mackay and Iain Moody are not demons. They don't walk around, cloaked like pantomime villains, muttering curses under their breath whenever they walk past a woman of colour. In fact, if I found myself in a social situation with them, I wouldn't be surprised to find them agreeable company.
That's part of how bigotry flourishes. It may be monstrous, but you don't have to be a monster to take part in it.

But the problems go further than the abhorrent text message exchanges between Mackay and Moody. They go further than the LMA (the managers union) initially trying using an apology to excuse it as "friendly banter"[1]. And they go further than Mackay's attempts at an apology of his own, which seemed to show contrition for getting caught, rather than for doing anything wrong.

The Mackay/Moody scandal is likely to be swiftly forgotten, in light of talk on the transfer window and the return of the Champions League. So let's have a quick look at America, where the NFL has a similar relationship to the country, as the Premier League does to England.

Looking at some of the major stories leading into the new season, issues of domestic abuse, racist team names, and whether gay men are truly allowed to play are as much a part of the conversation as the likely teams to triumph in the NFC and AFC.

The common thread that links these stories, and that often links numerous sporting tales of oppressive behaviour, is the identities of transgressor and transgressed.

Sport is something to be enjoyed by all, and was probably occurring long before humanity had the capabilities to record such a thing. As soon as we evolved the capabilities for sport, a joyful Rubicon was crossed.

But in terms of a codified series of games, with rules and regulations? Well, like many things in the world, that was instigated by white, cisgender, able-bodied men. From English Victorian amateurism to the sports-industrial complex, it wasn't just on the field of play, but also off, where they decided what sport would represent.

Journalist, Simon Barnes once used the metaphor of a shed to describe the way sport has excluded women; Sport was a kind of shed - a place up the garden with a limited view, but with the one significant asset that it was somewhere no woman would go or, for that matter , want to go.

This ties into a piece I wrote on sport lacking a political conscience. Many think sport should be an arena free from politics, and be a place of fun, a release from the more serious elements of the world. But that only works if part of the fun of sport doesn't include reinforcing societal oppression.

There's a reason why Harry Redknapp felt it acceptable not only to defend the actions of Mackay, but also indulge in false equivalence, invoking rape and paedophilia. Football - and sport - is a place where abuse of women, people of colour, trans people, fat people, and disabled people is acceptable. To differing degrees, of course. All oppression doesn't manifest itself identically.

There remains an enabling culture that allows bigoted conduct to fester. Where seeking the approval of one's peers[2] is all that matters, and where those who may feel different remain silent to not upset the status-quo.

It was instructive on the 24th August episode of the Sky Sports show, Sunday Supplement that while The Mirror's Oliver Holt addressed the shameful fact of there not being a single manager of colour in England[3], the same conversation included Charlie Wyatt from The Sun opining that Mackay just needs to wait for things "to blow over", and he should have a job in about "six months".

Such a statement that doesn't even try investigate the core of the problem is in fact, a large part of the problem. The people who made the rules set the terms, and until the rulemakers change, neither will the bigotry.

It's their game. They just happen to let us play it - no matter what the cost.


Here's a story that missed my radar recently, but is still worth mentioning. West Indian cricketer, Lendl Simmons was travelling in America while playing in the Caribbean Premier League, with his team Guyana Amazon Warriors.

After being stopped at customs, officials checked his equipment, including his bat, for drugs - of which Simmons had none. The inspection of his bat went to the absurd levels of drilling holes into it.

Now, beyond the officious actions from the customs officials, and the fact that a bat is a key part of a cricketer's professional life - much like a golfer's clubs - one has to pose the question of why Simmons was the one singled out for special attention?

This story only came to light through the Twitter feed of Simmons' teammate, Jimmy Neesham. While Simmons is one of numerous black players on the Warriors, it still shouldn't be overlooked that a black man (over 6 foot tall) in customs was on the receiving end of having his personal effects "randomly" searched for drugs, to the extent that said effects were damaged beyond repair.

So, how far into this story did you read before you thought to yourself, "This sounds like a clear case of racial profiling"?

[1] - Before - in what felt like something scripted by Armando Iannucci - apologising for that initial apology.

[2] - Often white, cisgender, able-bodied peers.

[3] - That changed a few hours ago with the appointment of Chris Powell at Huddersfield.

The Greatest Events in Sporting History" is available to download from, e-mail us at and you can follow us on Twitter @TGEISH

No comments:

Post a Comment