Opinion

The Sporting Triangle

European global dominance is predicated on acquisition, apologists, and beneficiaries and the use of words like “progress” and “the greater good” to maintain its position. Being born in the latter half of the 20th Century and coming of age in the 21st has given me a unique perspective in regard to the aforementioned terms. I am first generation Black British, a child of Jamaican migrants who were encouraged to leave their island to help re-build the “Mother Country.” Difference is an expedient means of creating division, the foreigner is caricatured into a parasitic non-human entity responsible for the lack of jobs and housing. Despite my cockney accent, some White people still ask me where I am from. Ironically, British social reform and the subsequent rights attained thereafter were made possible through unadulterated exploitation of a colonized proletariat.

“Despite my cockney accent some White people still ask me where I am from”

We now live in an age of so-called inclusivity. A color-blind era complete with trigger warnings, where the witticisms of Steptoe and Garnett have been consigned to the naughty chair. Police officers have race-neutral reasons to search my pockets. Respected Black academics have found no evidence to support claims of bias or institutionalized racism. A rosy picture, undoubtedly painted by the people who designed the emperor’s new clothes. Unfortunately, an attempted coup in the United States and a wave of xenophobic gaslighting that culminated with secession from the EU indicate that under the surface, nothing has changed.

I showed my youngest son footage of footballer John Barnes playing for Liverpool, including his mercurial finish against the Brazilian national team. He made comparisons to Messi and was astonished to learn that one of the most gifted footballers to wear an England shirt was little more than an impact player compelled to justify his inclusion in the team.

Fast forward, and England’s 2018 FIFA World Cup squad contained a plethora of players of African origin, a stark contrast to a bygone age. Television is inundated with images of detention centers, tales of human trafficking, lamentations of incursions, and the logistical difficulties of securing borders. However, the potential threat of terrorism or cultural contamination has not damped the ardor or proclivity for appropriating the prowess of People of Color. The tournament winners, France, are a prime example. Its citizens display overt hostility towards others but appear to forgo nationalistic sentiment in exchange for sporting accolades.

“Africans continue to represent countries that have no love for them

A couple of years on and the events during and after the final of the 2020 UEFA European Championship speak for themselves. Surely my trepidation was unwarranted; we have supposedly moved on from the days of monkey chants and throwing bananas on the pitch, so why didn’t I want those young men to take penalties?

The proceeding forty-eight hours revealed the face behind the mask. Africans continue to represent countries that have no love for them. Of course, the cynic would argue that endorsements and adulation supersede any ethical concerns, but who among us would spurn an opportunity to experience the pinnacle of their chosen field?

Athletics epitomizes this transactional relationship. Field events aside, I struggle to think of another international endeavor where Black people are over-represented. The USA has a proven track record in regard to inequality and had no compunctions procuring the exploits of sporting icons Jesse Owens and Joe Louis for the purpose of promoting anti-Nazi propaganda while subverting the freedom of peoples it perceived as inferior. Both of these legends died impoverished and in relative obscurity. Max Schmeling, Louis’s German opponent, held him in higher esteem than the nation who referred to their champion as a credit to his race. A fact made evident when he helped pay for the funeral of a man he called his friend. Europe is witnessing a resurgence of fascist ideology but doesn’t have a problem wrapping its flags around Black and Brown bodies.

“Europe is witnessing a resurgence of fascist ideology but doesn’t have a problem wrapping its flags around Black and Brown bodies”

Europe, Africa, and the Americas, same players, new game, destabilization, displacement, recruitment. All circumstances that are integral to the advancement of flesh merchants throughout history. They come in the guise of liberators, and refugee camps are filled with recipients of democracy. The fortunate few who manage to reach the shores of their unseen benefactors are evaluated, selection is dependent on meeting established protocols, and individuals with marketable skills and abilities are snatched and given new national identities.

Sound familiar?

Somalia is vilified as a rogue state, a haven for pirates, warlords, and religious extremists, with allegations substantiated by reports of genocide, kidnappings, and genital mutilation. Conflict compounded by economic instability ensures it remains amongst the world’s poorest countries. The film Black Hawk Down perpetuates these tropes about Somalia. From the onset, we are encouraged to negate the indigenous inhabitants’ humanity, allowing us to sit comfortably and enjoy the sterilized annihilation of the “skinnies.” They neglect to tell you that this region of Africa was once a center of trade, education, and introspection, a place Egyptian pharaohs called “Land of the Gods.”

Sir Mohammed Farah (I must admit, it has a nice ring) exemplifies a mode of acquisition adopted by Britain and her counterparts. An effective strategy that also serves as a political tool: a child of an asylum seeker, nurtured by his rescuers, and rewards their benevolence with un-paralleled sporting excellence to become the face of international athletics. A duplicitous bildungsroman that maintains the fallacy of equality while also a vehicle providing moral high ground for violent international interventions. I have the utmost respect for Mo, and it is not my intention to devalue him or his achievements. However, the national hero morphs when not adorned with a Union Jack. After all, dark skin is synonymous with a person of interest, and we know how that feels.

“However, when not adorned with a Union Jack, the national hero morphs. After all, dark skin is synonymous with a person of interest, and we know how that feels

Imagine the humiliation of a citizen of America’s closest ally (not to mention of an Olympic and multiple world champion) being profiled, singled out, scrutinized by fellow travelers, where the particulars that define existence justify forfeiture of your body. Gold medals lose their luster as they’re transformed into something akin to a neo-plantation pass that may enable safe passage. It is nothing personal. They are just doing their job because there is a war on terror, and you happen to resemble the enemy. Here we go again, yet another hyper-sensitive Black person blowing a misunderstanding out of proportion. How many incidents have to occur to gain recognition for a problem?

Coercion has evolved into quid pro quo, but parity is mute when dealing with ravenous consumers. The Colombian Exchange of 1492 elicited an insatiable hunger from the West that put the Rest of us on the menu, and its agents pursue resources like a swarm of locusts.  

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