Sport has a responsibility to tackle online racism head-on, expert says

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Paris (AFP)

Sport cannot use the excuse that racism is “a social problem” when it comes to stars who are victims of social media abuse, cabinet figurehead told AFP global strategic advisory.

Radha Balani, director of thinkBeyond, which focuses on using sport for social good, said social media companies just suspending trolls’ accounts was nothing more than “sticky plaster” about the problem.

And she urged federations and clubs to take a critical look at the values ​​of companies and brands before signing sponsorship agreements.

England footballers Bukayo Saka, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford have been targeted for racist abuse after missing penalties in the shootout with Italy in the Euro 2020 final in July.

The majority were from accounts in the UK, but one of the attackers was from Saudi Arabia. He saw his Instagram account suspended for just 24 hours and told the BBC this week he deserved a longer ban.

Balani, who during his career worked for American tennis legend Billie Jean King and World Rugby, among others, said the British government should label the abuse a hate crime.

“What is the UK government going to challenge Twitter to (change) its regulations that allow hate crimes to go significantly unpunished?” she told AFP.

It is sport, however, that Balani says needs to take a stronger stance as well.

“Sport has its role to play. It cannot hide behind the fact that racism is a social problem – sport is part of society and it does not exist in a vacuum,” she said. declared.

“Sport has many levers that it can pull to have a positive impact – it already does some, but more depth, intentionality and bravery are needed for long-lasting and far-reaching impact to occur.

“Sport is not magic, it won’t make a difference if we don’t pull those levers.”

Balani said one of those levers comes from the athletes themselves raising awareness of the issues and pushing for change.

“Taking the knee is part of it, as is Naomi Osaka’s use of face masks,” she said. For at least a year at the US Open, Osaka wore masks bearing the names of people who have died of alleged police or racist violence in the United States.

– “Very disgusting” –

Balani said that while the actions of Osaka and England’s knee-high men’s and women’s football teams could have an impact, professional sport and governing bodies “must also hold brands and companies to account when a racist action is noted “.

She pointed to the monkey chants directed at the black English players in Budapest when they played against Hungary in a World Cup qualifier last month.

“FIFA punishing Hungary is one thing, but will FIFA use its influence and power to challenge the Hungarian government to hold itself and its citizens to account?” said Balani.

She said clubs and federations should carefully consider the values ​​of potential sponsors before signing up.

“Who do we buy from in our supply chain? What are their values ​​and policies? ” she said.

“By investing, by buying from them, do we further entrench institutionalized racism or allow diverse, equitable and inclusive businesses and organizations to thrive, and therefore have an impact on both sport and society? company?”

Balani believes that there is still work to be done within the governing bodies so that those in charge have opinions which are in line with the fight against racism.

She points to controversial former comments by England Football Association president Greg Clarke – using the term “colorful” for black players, for example – to a UK parliamentary committee that cost him his year job last.

“Greg Clarke’s comments were so recent that I don’t think the industry can yet say they are doing a good job,” she said.

“That he even thought what he said was appalling, that he said it was utterly disgusting.

“I admit there were ramifications, but why was he there in the first place?

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