An independent United Nations human rights expert has called on the world body’s Member States and international sports federations “to harness the unique potential of sports” in the global fight against racism, urging them to promote an overall message of equality.
“Sports have demystified racial superiority discourses, making them an important and practical instrument for combating racism,” the UN Special Rapporteur on racism, Mutuma Ruteere, told the UN General Assembly body dealing with social, humanitarian and cultural issues (Third Committee) yesterday during the presentation of his latest report .
“Throughout history, team and individual sporting competitions have been based on the principle of a level playing field, with achievement not based on one’s skin colour, ethnicity or religion,” he continued, adding that sport remained “a positive symbol for social acceptance by conveying the image of multi-ethnic teams representing one nation and competing for a common goal.”
Mr. Ruteere noted that although awareness campaigns launched by major world bodies such as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Federation for International Football Associations (FIFA) and aimed at preventing and tackling racism had made some impact, the scourge of racism continued to afflict the sporting world.
“Regrettably, modern sports continue to be afflicted by incidents and patterns of racial violence, racial insults and racial intolerance on the field, as well as inside and outside arenas,” the Special Rapporteur observed.
“In recent times, both team events, such as football, rugby, basketball, and individual professional sports, such as tennis and golf have been marred by racist acts.”
In particular, the report cites numerous examples of European football-related incidents in which players were racially targeted with monkey calls and had bananas thrown at them, as well as the rising presence of far-right and nationalist groups in stadia across the continent. Elsewhere, in the tennis world, Serena and Venus Williams, both top-ranked tennis players, also reported being subjected to racially-motivated boos and cat-calls from spectators during tournaments, the report adds.
In addition to the burden of ingrained prejudice, Mr. Ruteere explained that wealth inequality also contributed to the lack of racial and ethnic diversity in a range of sports and athletic activities that have been historically known as being “white” or “elite,” such as cycling, tennis, golf, equestrian events and swimming.
As a result, he continued, Member States around the world should “strengthen capacity to prevent and combat racism and discrimination in sports and take appropriate measures to harness the unique potential of sports to debunk racial superiority discourses, mobilize people and convey messages about equality and non-discrimination.”