Alan Hubbard

A couple of items in insidethegames bulletins recently have caught my eye because of their significance in these turbulent times for those who compete in sport as opposed to those who control it.

The first was the news story that former track rebel John Carlos, who helped create one of the most bitterly controversial incidents in Olympic history has been included in a new Team USA Council on Social and Racial Injustice. Old Avery Brundage, the one-time President of the International Olympic Committee, must be turning in his proverbial grave.

It was a fuming Slavery Avery who sent home Carlos and his cohort Tommy Smith from the 1968 Mexico Olympics following their raised arm black glove salute from the podium in protest against racial discrimination in their American homeland.

Now 55 years on the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee have announced a 44 member panel is to assist the rather timid IOC Athletes Advisory Council, national governing bodies and the US Olympians Association in advising not only on sporting matters but those which are dividing society, and causing civil unrest on a large scale in Trumpland at the moment. It is a timely and much-needed move.

The new organisation is committed to working collaboratively to provide solutions and recommendations with the aim of eradicating social injustice and cultivating cultural change through the strength of the athletes voices. It has been formed to address rules and systems in the US Olympic and Paralympic movements that create barriers to progress.

Carlos, now 75. will sit on a Steering Committee on protests and demonstrations. No one is more eminently suited to do so in the prevailing atmosphere of Black Lives Matter with athletes prominent in taking the knee after the police killing of Afro-American George Floyd – and others. This has caused consternation among the IOC as it debates whether such protests will be allowed in Tokyo next year.

In June Carlos called for the IOC to abandon Rule 50 from the Games. This is the one that states that "no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in Olympic sites, venues or other areas."

He will be joined on the committee by white fencer Race Imboden who was censured after taking a knee at a medal ceremony at the Lima 2019 Pan-American Games. 

Numerous other active athletes will be featured on the Steering Committee, including weightlifters, cyclists, swimmers, water polo athletes and baseball players in discussions and dialogue with sports authorities and ultimately Government on racial and social injustice. The council will create pathways and advocate action for work towards implementing impactful change in sporting society.

Hooray! About time too. It is disgraceful the amount of prejudice that still exists in some sporting areas and I am all for athletes speaking out. Theirs is a voice that has to be heard in these so-called enlightened times. 

John Carlos, right, whose Black Power podium salute caused controversy at the 1968 Mexico Olympics has been included on a newly formed Team USA Council on Social and Racial Injustice ©Getty Images
John Carlos, right, whose Black Power podium salute caused controversy at the 1968 Mexico Olympics has been included on a newly formed Team USA Council on Social and Racial Injustice ©Getty Images

Those who play sport, especially at the highest level are no longer simply jocks and jockesses, all muscle and monosyllables. More often than not they are educated, highly intelligent, articulate individuals who know what they are on about.

Whether such vocal militancy will be welcomed by President Trump –assuming he is re-elected- is of course another matter.

The second item which caught my eye was a cogently put-together blog by British gold medal hockey star Alex Danson which also concerned a similarly disturbing issue in this country which needs to be addressed by what might be termed player power.

The shocking allegations of bullying and abuse made by an escalating number of gymnasts from all levels, parents and others within the gymnastic community makes it apparent that having an athlete-focused organisation independent from the British sporting system is vital.

Sport should be in favour of having its practitioners voice their views, and those views should be listened to by the blazers. But are they?

British athletes already have some sort of voice through the British Athletes Commission (BAC) of which Danson is an ambassador but this is an organisation which clearly needs strengthening.

Having such a body that is not involved with performances but can provide a listening ear and provide impartial advice is important and testament to its role that has grown in recent years.

Understandably Danson is calling for more to join the Association, a neutral body that can be there for impartial advice. "It is essential to install confidence in the athlete community,” she says.

"This is at a time when, worldwide athletes are questioning the ability of the authorities to consider the athlete voice and remain in touch with athletes’ sentiment on the issues."

She stresses that the bullying allegations in gymnastics, indeed any sport, are investigated however sensitive in nature and that the BAC is there to listen to their concerns. They have set up a helpline on 0800 056 0566 and urge any member of the gymnastics community should they have any concerns to contact this number where they will be given advice, if necessary referring these concerns to the relevant authorities including if appropriate the police.

Jockey Club group chief executive Delia Bushell stepped down on August 30 after an independent inquiry found evidence to support allegations of bullying, gross misconduct and racist comments ©Twitter
Jockey Club group chief executive Delia Bushell stepped down on August 30 after an independent inquiry found evidence to support allegations of bullying, gross misconduct and racist comments ©Twitter

This gymnastics issue is, indeed, of great concern, and much on a par with that by youth coaches in football although that was more of a sexual nature, as in the great gymnastics scandal in the US, which has resulted in lengthy prison sentences.

A review into allegations of mistreatment within British Gymnastics has finally begun. It has been commissioned by UK Sport and Sport England and is being overseen by a QC. Several Olympians have recently alleged there has been a culture of mistreatment.

Worryingly It has been commissioned by the two Government quangos, who hold umbrellas over sport in this country, and I’m not quite sure just how independent the review will be. 

I would have preferred to have seen one which involved not only the BAC but the very competent British Olympic Association and with members which included not only a number of ex-gymnasts like the much decorated Beth Tweddle and chaired not by a legal eagle but someone who truly understands sport. New Baroness Kate Hoey, the former Sports Minister, comes to mind, as does Paralympian Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson.

Chief coach Amanda Redding has been accused by one prominent Olympian of presiding over "a culture of fear" at British Gymnastics HQ in Lilleshall and has stepped aside while the inquiry is in progress.

When she announced the review, Jane Allen, the chief executive of British Gymnastics, admitted the organisation had "fallen short in protecting its members."

This week there also came stunning news of more allegations and bullying, astonishingly in the world of horse racing. The Jockey Club's group chief executive stepped down amid these on Sunday.

Delia Bushell, 48, tendered her resignation after independent barrister Jack Mitchell found evidence to support a number of the allegations including bullying, gross misconduct and racist comments about the Black Lives Matter movement.

Bullying seems to have become something of a buzzword in sport and it surprises me to see two women at the hub of the rumpus. Gives a whole new and rather unpleasant meaning to girl power.