This is an article by Philip Reid from The Irish Times on Saturday 8th October referencing SARI's work.


  • Article rank 
  • 8 Oct 2011
  • Sports Weekend

Ball moving slowly in attempt to tackle racism


IT'S ALMOST a full year since a report on racism, ethnic discrimination and the exclusion of migrants and minorities in sport was issued by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency. It was headlined "No Level Playing Field" and was presented to delegates at a "Fair Play" congress in Prague, in the Czech Republic, at the end of October 2010 where it stressed the need to make sport more inclusive.

The report found that, across the European Union, minorities and migrants were under-represented at playing and official levels. As Morten Kjaerum, director of the FRA put it, "Sports events provide the ideal platform for fostering inclusion, diversity and mutual respect while combating racism, discrimination and exclusion."

No one in their right minds could argue with those sentiments, yet it would seem the ball is rolling very slowly in some areas - and not least in the higher levels of Uefa, as it took European soccer's governing body 34 days to announce they would investigate racist chanting against England players Ashley Young and Theo Walcott by Bulgarian supporters in Sofia last month.

Racism in sport has existed for a long time. We all know of Jesse Owens' travails in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin where he at least had the last laugh. But it has even occurred in Formula One racing, with Lewis Hamilton a victim of a campaign in Spain where participants were encouraged to burst his tyres on an interactive game.

Elsewhere? In South Africa, where it is argued the international sporting sanctions had more impact than any economic sanctions imposed during the apartheid era. In the US, where there were separate negro baseball leagues before those charged with running America's national pastime saw, or were forced to see, the light.

In the US, no one changed the face of racism like the baseball player Jackie Robinson. He made his debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, and he became the man who opened the door for blacks to play in the big-time leagues. As Sports Illustrated's Bill Nack wrote of him: "Robinson was the target of racial epithets and flying cleats, of hate letters and death threats, of pitchers throwing at his head and legs, and catchers spitting on his shoes." He answered insults and violence and injustice with silence, but earned the respect firstly, of his own team-mates, and then, of the opposition. In time, that silence was replaced by a capacity to argue against racism.

Inspired by Robinson, the integration of organised baseball in the US preceded the civil rights movement and helped make later reforms politically feasible by giving white Americans black heroes with whom to identify.

Yet there is still a need for conferences and anti-racism promotions in Europe and around the globe. Here in Ireland, there have been progressive initiatives in particular from the FAI and the GAA in attempting to integrate the influx. Perhaps the most successful has been SARI, Sport Against Racism in Ireland. Set up in 1997, it does exactly what the EU congress in Prague last year implored other countries to do. Only last month, some 50 teams - from Ireland and with players from 40 countries represented - took part in a soccer fest in the Phoenix Park which was proof of how well the concept can work.

Yet, even with initiatives such as the much-heralded "Give Racism the Red Card" promoted by the professional football unions around the world, the evidence from the Bulgaria-England match, and the slow reaction from Uefa, would indicate it is a problem that still needs to be tackled.