Alan Hubbard

Sport is a five letter word that flourishes despite the predominance these days of the four letter variety. Alas, there is another of six letters which forces us to look back in anguish on the year of 2021. 

Yet it is one that in this day and age we would have hoped was now expunged from the sporting lexicon - racism.

It is sad that we should be mourning the passing of one of the great champions of anti-racism, indeed all forms of prejudice not only in sport but every walk of life, South Africa’s feisty Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in the year in which racial intolerance sprang to the fore in some of the games we play.

In English cricket it has dominated with the same vehemence with which Australia are currently dominating England in the Ashes series down under.

Revelations about the abuse of some players of colour in the nation‘s biggest and most prominent cricketing county, Yorkshire, have not only rocked the world but the very roots of the game culminating in not only a Parliamentary inquiry but Yorkshire itself being clean bowled and forced to follow on with a completely reformed administration.

Yet such is the perversity of the subject that it was later revealed the whistle blower, a player of Pakistani heritage, has himself been guilty of racism when making anti-semitic remarks early in his own career.

Yorkshire-gate was just one aspect of how racism besmirched sport. The second of the twin towers of English sport suffered an equally embarrassing - indeed probably more so - episode when the national team performed admirably as a multi racial unit to reach the final of the European Championship at Wembley only to lose out in the dreaded penalty shootout against Italy. 

When three members of the team, who all happened to be black, failed with their kicks it promoted a savage, senseless and utterly shameful outburst of racial hatred on social media which indicated, once again, that such moronic prejudice in some quarters is more than skin deep.

To compound this Wembley had witnessed the utter breakdown of law and order before the kickoff when a mob numbering hundreds smashed barriers and stormed into the stadium, thus provoking sanctions against the Football Association which may yet preclude England from hosting another World Cup.

Racism and thuggery. These two factors again reared their ugliest of heads. Of course English football is by no means alone in this respect. Racism, in particular, is rife in many European countries, notably Russia and its one-time satellites including Hungary and Bulgaria.

Disorder in the build-up to the Euro 2020 final at Wembley has led to England being ordered to play their next UEFA match behind closed doors ©Getty Images
Disorder in the build-up to the Euro 2020 final at Wembley has led to England being ordered to play their next UEFA match behind closed doors ©Getty Images

Certainly makes one despair and the situation was perhaps best summed up this week by the England and Manchester City player Raheem Sterling who said that when such situations occur they are "widely, even loudly debated and then swept under the carpet."

What more can we expect, I wonder, when teams who take the knee in sympathy with the Black Lives Matter movement, are booed by their own fans!

It is a pity that racism, in particular, should have been such a factor in a year in which, otherwise, sport fought an honourable draw against all the odds – and COVID.

Apart from the conclusion that those were a success, and the Tokyo Olympics a triumph despite the naysayers, a new star was born on the tennis court, delightful Emma Raducanu, winner of the US Open and BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year (a Briton of Chinese and Romanian parents and yet another vindication of homegrown multiculturalism). 

The gypsy giant, Tyson Fury, literally stands head and shoulders among world heavyweight boxers, another Lazarus like performance to dismantle America’s bronze bomber, Deontay Wilder in episode three of their titanic trilogy.

Also on the plus side, sport, by and large, remains free of racism at its grassroots and core examples of its purity - at least in this respect - and for more years than I can remember - gymnasiums and track and field venues have been exemplary temples of integrated talent.

With all it’s vicissitudes you would think that 2021 would be an easy act for sport to follow in 2022. But it ain’t necessarily so.

The true principal events of the coming year, the Winter Olympics in and around Beijing and the football World Cup in Qatar are treacherous territory, potential minefields shattered with political intrigue and controversy.

Both China and Qatar possess dubious records on human rights and few would blame any competitor who takes a stand, or the knee.

Yes, sport may have another fight on its hands. Bring it on, I say.