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Colour-blind

Publication Date : 04-05-2014

 

How America’s National Basketball Association dealt with the racist remarks of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling should be of interest to people the world over.

That NBA Commissioner Adam Silver swiftly slapped Sterling with a lifetime ban from the league and a $2.5-million fine shows the way for quick action on matters concerning offensive and discriminatory attitudes in sports. “The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful,” Silver said at a press conference. “I fully expect to get the support I need from the other NBA owners to remove him.”

And the forced sale of the Clippers appears to be a possibility, with the NBA advisory-finance committee meeting to discuss “the process for termination of … Sterling’s ownership” of the team since 1981, and big names (Winfrey and Mayweather Jr., to name two) expressing interest in buying it.

Reputed to be the NBA’s worst owner with a history of ineptitude and discriminatory behavior against blacks and Hispanics, Sterling had been recorded telling a girlfriend not to associate with black people and to desist from bringing them to Clippers games. He was reacting to Instagram photographs of his girlfriend with Earvin “Magic” Johnson, a former Los Angeles Lakers stalwart, a successful entrepreneur, and one of the owners of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team.

The outrage—over Sterling’s remarks, and not, as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar caustically notes, over the way the recording was made and leaked to a US media network, which promptly made it public—was instantaneous; even US President Barack Obama saw fit to comment: “We constantly have to be on guard on racial attitudes that divide us rather than embracing our diversity as a strength.”

Other countries can pick lessons from the Sterling case—the Philippines, particularly, where discrimination against minorities (including women, gays, and persons with disability) is rampant, and racism remains prevalent despite our being people of colour ourselves. (The desire for fair skin, promoted endlessly by whitening products in the market, has become a near-obsession.)

One would think that sports is one of the rare areas in Philippine life where racism is not rife, owing to the broad range of nationalities and races of the players in the leagues. But no. Just last January, the 6’9” Cameroon athlete Olaide Adeogun was mocked by Bernard Santos, a utility man for an opposing team during a Philippine Basketball Association Development League game.

Adeogun, who was then playing for D-League team NLEX and had been a fixture in the San Beda Red Lions, was heckled by Santos of the team Cagayan Valley. Santos repeatedly called Adeogun “unggoy” (monkey) while imitating the actions of the animal, and even waved a banana in his direction. Santos was subsequently summoned by PBA Commissioner Chito Salud and slapped with a 10-game ban. Salud also personally apologised to Adeogun, assuring “him and his countrymen that the Philippines is blind to colour, race and creed.”

Indeed, Filipinos shouldn’t be engaged in any kind of racist behaviour considering that we often find ourselves on the receiving end of prejudice. In June 2013 when the Azkals football team played in a friendly at Hong Kong’s Mong Kok Stadium, fans in the Chinese territory booed the Philippine national anthem, called the Philippines a “slave nation,” and even threw garbage at Filipinos in the audience. (The Hong Kong team lost, 1-0, to the Azkals.)

The Philippine Football Federation filed a complaint of racial abuse against the Hong Kong Football Association with Fifa, the world football governing body. An institution that has steadfastly been battling racist behavior in its European leagues with decisive action, Fifa upheld the complaint and fined the HKFA 30,000 Swiss francs (US$31,480). “The decision shows that Fifa vigorously implements the nondiscrimination provisions of the Fifa statutes wherever the conduct is displayed and whoever the guilty party is,” the PFF said in a statement.

Here or elsewhere, outrage over racism is a long time in coming. In his part of the planet, Abdul-Jabbar says people have to be reminded that “racism is still a disease that we haven’t yet licked,” and that he is “bothered that everyone acts as if [the Sterling case is] a huge surprise.” Yes, there’s much to do down the road. There’s much to change, much to overhaul, before everyone becomes colour-blind in a borderless, multicultural world.


 

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