Category Archives: Racism

Quotas in sport can only work in non playing roles

The start of 2016 sees the England cricket team flying high after an impressive 241 run over the world’s number 1 Test team South Africa. However as impressive as England were South Africa did not look anything like the world’s number 1 Test team. The batting especially was quite pathetic and on their perfomance in Durban I reckon Australia, India, New Zealand and Pakistan – as well as England – are better than South Africa who on the evidence of Durban will soon fall as low as number 6 in the world.

Apart from the fact that Dale Steyn the world’s number 1 ranked bowler is injured again and will miss today’s second Test in Cape Town and that the batting – AB de Villiers and Dean Elgar apart – is still traumatised by their Indian nightmare South Africa have a uniquely South African problem which in my opinion they should not have to face and will definitely hinder their chances of coming back into the series against England.

The problem is the quota system in South African cricket. To compensate for the fact that non white South Africans were discriminated against in the country’s pre 1991 apartheid system there is a process in South African cricket called “transformation”. There is a target of four non white players in every South African XI. This caused a problem in the Durban Test where star player de Villiers was forced to keep wicket against his own wishes. This was to accommodate two non white batsmen – the hopelessly out of form JP Duminy and the out of his depth Temba Bavuma. Coincidentally – or not – rumours began to appear in the press that de Villiers would retire after the England series because of being overloaded and that he did not want to keep wicket. Coincidentally – or not – (white) wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock has been recalled to the squad for the second Test. But in order to play de Kock they will probably have to drop either Duminy or Bavuma which means they would be one short of their target number of non white players. In turn that means the injured Steyn will be replaced by (black) fast bowler Kagiso Rabada in order to keep the number of non white players at four. Now Rabada is a promising young bowler but how on earth will he feel knowing he is in the XI to fill a quota?

It is interesting to note that baseball and UK football – both of which have past histories of discrimination against blacks – never used quotas on the playing side. When Jackie Robinson became the first black player in the Major Leagues for 60 years in 1947 he was not signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers to fill a mandatory quota or a target. He was signed because the Dodgers thought he was good enough. The same applied to the first black players in the English football Leagues. Now it was hard enough for Robinson and the first black footballers in England. Robinson (as I wrote earlier) got spiked and shoved on the baseball field and in the 1970s and 80s black footballers in England had to listen to monkey chants  and had bananas thrown at them. And they were picked on merit. Imagine what it would have been like if they had been picked to fill a quota. The pressure on Bavuma and Rabada especially (since South Africa want more black (as opposed to coloured)) players in the team is huge. Both are young players who might be Test players in the future but are not Test players at the moment and have been rushed into Test cricket too soon just to meet a target. To my mind quotas have no place on the sports field and the International Cricket Council (ICC) should tell South Africa in no uncertain terms that teams must be picked on merit.

That does not mean quotas have no place in sport but they can only work in non playing roles. Again an example from another sport. In American football the “Rooney Rule” – which insists that franchises must interview non white candidates for jobs – only applies to non playing roles like coaching and senior football operation jobs not to playing jobs. In UK football people have called for the “Rooney Rule” to be brought in but only for manager’s jobs not for the playing side. And the same when it comes to gender. Jean Williams has asked (in “A Game For Rough Girls?” page 132) “why are women not more represented* in non-playing professions?”. In the same book she also writes (in page 146) that “Quotas would also assist in opening the full range of coaching opportunities”. There are plenty of people who want more women in men’s sport – even suggesting quotas – but only a tiny minority (Natalie Bennett, Charlotte Proudman) want that applied to the playing side. Most want it applied to non playing jobs.

The reason quotas are not needed on the playing side of sport is shown in the book “Soccernomics” by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski. In page 126 they point out that “markets tend to work when they are transparent – when you can see who is doing what and place a value on it”. This applies to the playing side of sport – where we can see players play and it is easy to spot who is not good enough – like Bavuma in the South African cricket team – but not to managers, coaches etc where we can’t see their work. Kuper and Szymanski again “Inefficient markets can maintain discrimination almost indefinitely”.

This should tell South African cricket there is no need for quotas or targets because if everyone in South Africa is given opportunities the best will come through regardless of colour. I know South Africa is a special case in that non whites were banned by the law of the country – not by a  gentlemen’s agreement as in baseball (in UK football non whites were never banned it was just a case of waiting for the children of black immigrants to grow up) but history shows that if you are patient the talent will come through.

England must not be complacent in this Test series. On both their last two South African tours they were 1-0 up going to Cape Town. One game they lost the other they drew with nine wickets down. In both cases South Africa’s best and most experienced batsman Jacques Kallis scored a first innings century and lead the fightback. The precedent of 2005 and 2010 suggest South Africa are an AB de Villiers century away from being right back in this series. But it would help if they did not handicap themselves with a quota system that other sports have shown is not necessary.

*In men’s football.

Don’t ban Russia from the Olympics. Ban all countries.

So Russia has been suspended by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) after the shocking report by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) which accused Russia of state sponsored doping and also deliberately destroying 1,417 doping samples. Equally sinisterly it suggested that any Russian athlete who did not agree to take drugs would not be considered part of the national team – in effect told to cheat or they would not be selected. There is now a danger that Russian athletes will be banned from competing in the Rio Olympics next year. I suspect that will not happen – the rest of the world won’t want to offend Vladimir Putin – but in any case it is not only Russia that should be banned from the Olympics – it is all countries that should be banned from the Olympics – both in 2016 and forever. It is the very existence of national teams that makes the drugs problem worse.

People will say that I am mad but the fact is sport and nationalism is an utterly toxic mix. One suspects that the reason the Russian doping programme existed was as a propaganda tool – they wanted to gain victories for mother Russia and prove Russia’s superiority over the West. This is not the first time a rotten regime has done this. Every dictator in history –  from Mussolini to Hitler to Stalin to East Germany to Putin among others – has used sport – especially the (male) football World Cup and the Olympics – for propaganda purposes. And why? Because the competitors are representing their countries. Time for a change.

If I were in charge of the Olympics all countries would be banned. Athletes would compete merely as individuals. Only individual sports would be allowed. Team sports like football, hockey, basketball, handball and volleyball would be out. Even team events in individual sports (like the relays in athletics) would not be allowed. In tennis doubles teams where the players are from two different countries – for example the current best women’s doubles team of Swiss Martina Hingis and Indian Sania Mirza – would be allowed to play together. Teams would compete under the Olympic flag and medalists would hear the Olympic anthem instead of their own*. TV, radio and newspapers would be banned from even mentioning the competitors’  nationality which should be totally irrelevant.** The Olympics should also be hosted permanently in Athens to stop a bidding war between would be host cities.

Banning national teams would not stop doping – plenty of individuals do it from all countries – but it might stop state sponsored doping as the Olympics would not be a propaganda tool for dictatorships anymore. But there is another reason why nationality should be taken out of sport. In my opinion we cannot get racism out of sport as long as it is based on national teams because by definition national teams are racist. Not only that but sport has been used by racists for their own ends. The classic example being ex Conservative minister Norman Tebbit who said immigrants to the UK should support England at cricket to prove their loyalty to the UK (this became known as the “cricket test”). But surely individuals should be free to support whoever they want?

And in individual sports – and in global sports like the Premier League in the UK – people do support whoever they want to. The big football clubs in the UK and Europe have fans all over the world. So do tennis stars like Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, the Williams sisters, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka. And that is the way it should be.

And yet another reason why national teams should be got rid of is that they are out of date. They worked perfectly well when people stayed in the same country all their lives and married people from the same country. Neither happens now so you get dual nationals – people who either have parents from two different countries or were born in one country but moved to another country when they were young. These people can play for more than one country but get vilified whatever choice they make. People who were not born in the UK but have a parent who was and thus are able to play for the UK and choose to do so are called “Plastic Brits” – a horrible phrase – while footballer Sydney le Roux gets stick for choosing the US over Canada and would have got stick had she made the opposite choice.

Frankly sport needs to wean itself off national teams. In the ideal world individual sports and club teams should dominate and the latter should be able to field anyone they want. In fact any club that restricts  itself to signing players from its own country – or even bans players from its own country like Athletic Bilbao with its evil basque only policy – should be banned. For ever. End of story.

People say politics should be kept out of sport. That is impossible as politics are part of society and so is sport. People who think that confuse politics with nationalism. Which needs to be taken out of sport as soon as possible. And a useful side effect of getting national teams out of sport would be no World Cup and no European Championship in football – which means no need for ghastly FIFA or UEFA as the clubs could – and should – run the Champions League themselves. A world without FIFA? Now that is a good idea…

*As happened at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow when athletes from some countries (including the UK) competed in defiance of requests by their governments to boycott them. These countries were not allowed to use their own flag or national anthem.

**This should also apply to TV radio and newspaper coverage of domestic football leagues like the Premier League. Most fans don’t give a toss about a  player’s nationality – I know I don’t – and the media should reflect this.

Why Rousey v Mayweather must never happen

I have not admitted it here before but I am a big fan of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). Yes I know it is fake but it is great entertainment and the wrestlers are great performers and athletes.

However there is something that just might happen at the WWE’s premier annual pay-per-view Wrestlemania that if it did happen would mean that I would never watch WWE again. The event would be a mixed fight between the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) women’s bantamweight champion the unbeaten (12-0) Ronda Rousey and the unbeaten (48-0) multiaple time World boxing champion Floyd “Money” Mayweather.

Now you might think why would people be even thinking of a male v female fight? A conjunction of circumstances. First Rousey appears unbeatable. She won her last fight against Bethe Cotreia in just 34 SECONDS. And amazingly it was not her shortest fight! So people start looking for competition for her. Also add to this the fact that Mayweather is similar in height to Rousey (5ft 8 in to 5ft 7in) and there is only a few pounds in weight between them and people start thinking.

But there is a more sinister element to this. Mayweather has a history of domestic violence. He has been charged with the offence six times and served two months in prison for attacking the mother of three of his children. Rousey is a feminist. Some women would like to see Rousey take on Mayweather as some sort of revenge for his victims. Rousey has even brought up Mayweather’s past on a couple of occasions. First when she said that she would “never get in the ring with him unless they were dating” and  when she beat him to the Fighter of the Year award at the recent ESPYs she said (July16 2015) “I wonder how Floyd feels about being beaten by a woman for once”.

And add to this the race element.  Rousey is a white blonde while Mayweather is black. It is  too easy – especially in the US of 2015 – to see this becoming a case of the white hero v the black villain.  Every racist crackpot in the US – and there are a LOT of them – would support Rousey. You could have bizarre alliances forming where racists and feminists would support Rousey and sexists and blacks would support Mayweather.  Not a desirable scenario to put it mildly.

And amazingly people are taking this seriously. In the last week two articles have been published advocating the fight. One by Clay Travis on Fox (August 3rd) was entitled “Ronda Rousey and Floyd Mayweather need to fight”. The next day David Whitely in the “Orlando Sentinel” wrote that “Rousey v Mayweather must happen”.

And Twitter has also mentioned the possibility of the fight happening. Two examples:

I would pay a large amount of money to see @RondaRousey kick Floyd Mayweather’s ass in the ring. She’s a beast. (Brittaney Phelps (@brittaneyphelps) July 28 2015).

When Rousey-Mayweather happens at Wrestlemania 5 years from now I want credit. Favourite this tweet. (Robert Littal (@BSO) August 2 2015).

And this is where the WWE comes in. Even taking gender out of the equation if one fighter is a boxer and the other is an ultimate fighter they can’t meet in the ring or in the octagon as that would be to the advantage of one or other of the competitors. They need a neutral venue. Like the WWE. And as luck would have it both Mayweather and Rousey have appeared at Wrestlemania. Mayweather at Wrestlemania 24 when he fought and beat the Big Show and Rousey at Wrestlemania 31 this year in a cameo with Triple H, Stephanie McMahon and the Rock. So a boxing/mixed martial arts hybrid match at a future Wrestlemania would seem ideal.

There is one big drawback in my opinion. The very idea of a man and woman fighting each other is to me morally repugnant. What message would it send out to men who beat their wives/girlfriends if they saw a man hit a woman in a fight on TV? Remember WWE fans know it is fake but those who don’t normally watch WWE who are drawn to WWE because of a Rousey v Mayweather fight would not know it was fake and think it is real. Would a wife beater justify beating his wife by saying “I saw Mayweather do this to Rousey on TV”? Even if only one man used the fight as an excuse it would be one too many. And I think Rousey knows this as she says she would not fight Mayweather.

But in sport money talks and there is a historical precedent. On September 28th 1973 female tennis player Billie Jean King took on male player Bobby Riggs at the Houston Astrodome in the “Battle of the Sexes” – a $100000 winner-take-all match. Amazingly more than 30,000 people turned up to see King win and over 50 million watched on US TV – proving that a market for this kind of event existed during a period of strong feminist activity (another similarity with today).

The big difference of course is that tennis is not a physical contact sport and there was no risk of injury to King and no risk of glorifying male violence towards women. So that event was a harmless little publicity stunt – quite unlike a potential Rousey-Mayweather fight.

Ironically if these two were from the UK this fight would be easily nipped in the bud as the authorities could easily ban it because of the “average woman” law in the UK. This prohibits mixed sport in events where the average woman is at a physical disadvantage to the average man (my emphasis).It is clear that fight sports would fall into this category. The fact that Rousey is not the “average woman” would be totally irrelevant. Now when this law is applied to say football and cricket it is wrong but in the case of a man fighting a woman it is a perfectly justifiable way to stop it.

And that is what the US authorities must do. They must pass an “average woman” law – provided it only applies to fight sports – and for the purpose of this law the WWE – which calls itself “sports entertainment” would count as a sport.

If they don’t do this they are relying on the morals of the competitors and promoters of sport overcoming their desire to make money – a very unlikely scenario. People will say the fight will never happen but no one thought the Conservatives would get a majority in the UK General Election or that the Astros and the Mets would be top of their divisions or women’s football fever would sweep the UK and the US. Funny things happen in sport – and life.

So the US authorities must step in and make sure the sick spectacle of a Rousey-Mayweather fight can never happen. The UK Government can help by banning the WWE and UFC from coming to the UK if it ever happens (both brands see the UK as a key growth market).

One thing is certain. If Rousey v Mayweather happens I won’t be watching. And if it is held at a future Wrestlemania the WWE will have lost themselves at least one fan forever.

Here’s to you Jackie Robinson

Today’s post is about one of my heroes – even though he died before I was born. He is Jackie Robinson who in 1947 became the first black player to play in modern Major League Baseball (MLB) breaking the sport’s colour barrier.

I say “modern” quite deliberately as the ban on blacks – which lasted for 60 years – is an example of what I call an “invented tradition”. For blacks and whites had played together in the 19th century. Some say the ban came about when Cap Anson shouted “Get that nigger* off the field!” at black pitcher George Storey and refused to accept his pitch and that he was so powerful (like W G Grace in cricket at the same time) that if he didn’t want a black man pitching to him a black man didn’t pitch to him. Wither or not that is true the ban begun.

Except it wasn’t  really a ban because unlike say women playing football with men today there was no law either in the US or baseball itself that forbade integrated sport. It was more a gentlemen’s agreement backed up by threats not to play against any franchise that broke ranks. So the blacks had to from their own Leagues –  the Negro Leagues – so they could play.

It would be nice to say Robinson was signed out of morality by Dodgers President and General Manager Branch Rickey but the cynic in me thinks it was because attendances in the white game were going through the floor. His franchise was down to 5,000 and even Boston was down to 4,000. In sport then as now it’s all about the Green as an American would say.

Two aspects of Robinson’s signing were interesting. The first is that some people thought Rickey was an opportunist thief who was stealing black players from their real owners. This was plainly nonsense as black players belonged in the Majors (Storey won 30 games the year before the Anson incident mentioned above) Secondly most people agree that Robinson was not the best black player in baseball at the time of his signing. Most people thought Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige or Monte Irwin were more worthy of the honour. But sport – and never more so than when one is breaking down a taboo – is not just about ability. Temperament and the ability to perform under pressure are also important. And Robinson was under pressure like no man before or since.

Imagine you are Jackie Robinson. You MUST play well otherwise racists will say your failure to do so proves that blacks are inferior. You are going to get racist remarks and taunts thrown at you. You will have players spiking you as they slide into base or deliberately shove you as they run on to the next base. You have to sit in a blacks only section of a bus depot. You have the manager of the Triple A team you are sent to in order to prepare for the Majors ask for you to be sent to any other Dodger affiliate (quite rightly Rickey refused). And you have to turn the other cheek. For if you get in a fight the experiment is over. (In passing imagine if Robinson had broken the colour bar in 2015 not 1947. Think of the abuse he would have got on Twitter).

Robinson did not get involved in a fight. He played well. His average in 1947 was  .297  and he was Rookie of the Year.  His career average was .311 and he had 137 home runs and 734 RBIs  He helped the Dodgers win the World Series in 1955. But the key was that he was a success. And when the  pioneer succeeds the rest follow and great players like Hank Aaron and Willie Mays got their chance.Ironically the Negro Leagues who had their best talent “creamed off” by MLB eventually folded. They shouldn’t have been needed – but if they hadn’t existed where would Robinson and the other black players have developed their skills?

There is another reason for baseball to be proud of Jackie Robinson. Because when MLB became integrated in 1947 it was ahead of American society. For in 1947 “Jim Crow” laws which enforced racial segregation were still in force. It was not until 1954 that the Brown v Board of Education Supreme Court case ruled that racially segregated schools were ruled to be unconstitutional.It wasn’t until 1955 that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white as the law said she should And it wasn’t until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were passed that US law caught up with baseball. A contrast by the way to sport’s woeful record on gender equality where it lags behind society.

And baseball is proud of Jackie Robinson. In 1997 his number 42 was retired by MLB**. No player can wear it except on April 15th which is “Jackie Robinson Day” in the Majors and every player in MLB wears it. Some idiot on ESPN said last year that Jackie Robinson Day shouldn’t be held very year but that is plainly tripe. After all Martin Luther King Day is celebrated every year and he is society’s equivalent to Robinson. in fact I think MLB should make sure all 30 franchises play on April 15th – weather permitting of course! – regardless of what day it falls on in the same way that the Reds always open the season at home.

Tomorrow when I watch baseball and see a great feat by a black player I will remember Jackie Robinson as but for his bravery under pressure the feat might not have happened. He is sport’s Nelson Mandela. Truly a hero.

*That is two posts in a row the word “nigger” has appeared. I don’t intend to make a habit of it.

**Any player that wore 42 at the time the number was retired was allowed to carry on wearing it until he retired. Fittingly the last player to wear 42 on an every day basis was Mariano Rivera –  a great black player in his own right.

Football is stuck in a racist 1960s timewarp

The current UK General Election has similarities with that of 1964 – an unpopular Old Etonian Prime Minister against an opposition people don’t trust (in 1964 the party today the opposition leader) . One difference is that in 1964 the “big two” UK parties – Conservative and Labour – won all but 9 of the 630 seats so although the result was close – Labour won 13 seats more than the Conservatives – we still had single party majority government as Labour had a majority of 4 – if the gap between the two parties is the same on May 8th a hung parliament with no overall majority is a dead cert as other parties will easily win more than 13 seats.

One big difference is that there will be no seat where race will be an issue. In 1964 there was. Although Labour won the election the Conservatives gained four seats against the tide. Two of them – the very marginal Eton and Slough and Perry Bar – might have been because of racism but the Conservatives in those seats did not make an issue of race. But shamefully in one seat they did: Smethwick.

Smethwick is a town in the Midlands which in 1964 had seen an influx of non-white immigrants. Racists stirred up trouble by using the slogan “if you want a nigger neighbour vote Labour*” The Conservative candidate Peter Griffiths denied using the slogan but shamefully did not condemn those who did.  But the campaign had an effect. Griffiths gained the seat from Labour on a swing to the Conservatives of 7.2% (for a comparison the Great Britain swing to Labour was 3.2%). To give an idea of how strongly people felt about this result here are two reactions from the BBC TV coverage of the 1964 results – both given just after the Smethwick result was announced.

Ian Trethowan said :”Well this is the fateful single result of this election. A Conservative gain which in their hearts maybe one they preferred not to get because they must have got it through the white backlash”.

David Butler added : “The Conservative candidate fought a very lone wolf campaign there rather shunned by his own party.. and on a largely racial platform completely defied the national trend”.

Even former Conservative MP Lord Boothby called the result – a gain for his own party remember – “disgraceful”. And new Prime Minister Harold Wilson said of Griffiths:  “He is a parliamentary leper”

After the result Smethwick got nasty. Old women were saying on TV “send them all back on the next banana boat”. Smethwick’s Conservative council suggested renting council houses in Marshall Street only to white people and the US  Black Power leader Malcolm X visited Smethwick in February 1965 claiming that black people in Smethwick were being treated like the Jews under Hitler. Black families had petrol bombs put through their doors.

And then suddenly Smethwick came to its senses. In February 1966 the Conservative council that had proposed bringing apartheid to the streets of the UK was voted out of office. The next month – because Labour only had a majority of 2 – Prime Minister Wilson called a snap general election. On March 31st 1966 Labour regained Smethwick. Griffiths and his racist policies were swept into oblivion. Smethwick is now part of the Warley constituency has had a Labour MP since 1945 (apart from the shameful 1964-66 Griffiths episode) and no one will take notice of it as it is a certain Labour hold at this year’s election.

But there is one part of society that is stuck in a 1960s racist time warp. It won’t surprise any one to know it is football. Last month FA chairman Greg Dyke produced a plan suggesting clubs should field a certain number of “home grown”(ie English players). He is blaming foreigners for English football’s problems. Griffiths blamed foreigners for Smethwick’s problems in 1964.The sad part is that Dyke – a former Director-general of the BBC – was a supporter of Tony Blair and thus one presumes of Labour’s non racist immigration policy. So a decent man has been brainwashed by racists into supporting their point of view (as were Smethwick’s usually Labour supporting voters).

What should be done? Anybody who supports home grown quotas in football should be banned from football for life. Five former England managers came out in support of the plan. All should be banned for life. So should former Italy coach Arrigo Sacchi who came up with this horrid remark – football’s equivalent to “if you want a nigger for a neighbour…” He said:

“While watching the Viareggio (youth) tournament it seemed to me there were too many black players”.

Peter Griffiths would have approved. Shameful. And remember Athletic Bilbao who refuse to sign non Basques  – in effect they won’t sign black players. Peter Griffiths would have approved.

The UK – and European – governments should insist that football clubs should be forced to select players only on merit. Nationality colour (and indeed  gender) should not be an issue. Any club which refuses to do this should be thrown out of football – good bye and good riddance Athletic Bilbao – and any player official and manager who disagreed should be arrested and thrown into prison.

The sad fact is that if Peter Griffiths was still alive – he died in 2013 – he would find much to approve of in the attitude of people in football to foreigners. That is shameful. And must change.

*I’m only mentioning that slogan to show how nasty the Smethwick campaign was. I know it is offensive. I feel the same way.