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Examining the Impact of Racism in Sports: A Comprehensive Analysis

Written by Advitya Ahlawat


Racism is a long-standing problem in sports. Like a terrible weed in a garden, it emerges and damages the wonderful things that sports are meant to be about, such as fairness and everyone having the equal opportunity to succeed. This analysis focuses on how racism impacts sports, how it harms players and society as a whole, and how individuals are working to end it. Sports used to reflect global events. For example, in some major league sports, such as baseball, black players were not permitted to compete with white competitors. And when some athletes of colour spoke up for their rights, they were chastised harshly. A well-known image of two runners, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, raising their fists in protest of racism during the 1968 Olympics remains a powerful reminder of the issues at hand.

Even now, with sports popular all across the world and bringing people together, prejudice persists. Sometimes it's evident, like when people yell horrible, racist things at games, and sometimes it's not, like when people of color aren't given a fair shot to be coaches or bosses in sports. Athletes who discuss racism may face repercussions, making others afraid to speak up. Racism in sports does more than simply make sportsmen feel awful. It also educates others watching that it is acceptable to treat individuals unfairly based on their skin color. This negative message extends beyond athletics and influences how people behave one another everywhere. It also messes with money. If an athlete is treated unfairly because of their race, they may not receive the pay they deserve.

If teams or entire sports don't address racism, supporters may stop watching or purchasing tickets, resulting in reduced revenue for those sports. Fighting racism in sports requires everyone to contribute—players, coaches, administrators, fans, and the groups that set the rules. They're experimenting with anti-racism initiatives, encouraging people to be more accepting of others, and cracking down on racist behavior. These are positive steps, but significant change is difficult to achieve. Understanding how horrible racism has been and continues to be in athletics allows us to fight towards a future in which everyone, regardless of skin color, is treated equally. We want sports to bring people together and promote justice and respect for everybody.

1968 Olympics: Tommie Smith and John Carlos' Stand Against Racism:

“They wore black socks with no shoes; Smith wore a black scarf around his neck. As the US national anthem played, they each raised a black-gloved hand in silent protest.” At the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, US athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos made a forceful statement in support of civil rights and racial equality. After winning the 200m event, Smith and Carlos stood on the podium, heads bowed, raising a black-gloved fist in a Black Power salute during the national anthem. Their demonstration, which represented Black Power, Black Unity, Black Pride, and African-American Poverty, was a forceful statement against racial persecution in the United States. However, their protest was met with a rapid backlash. The International Olympic Committee criticized their behaviour, and two days later, Smith and Carlos were removed from the US squad and sent home.

The aftermath of their protest was harsh: both players were vilified in the media, got death threats, and were shunned by the US sporting establishment. Despite the personal and professional obstacles that followed, Smith remained dedicated to social justice. He continued his study, obtaining a master's degree in sociology and pursuing a career in education and athletic coaching. Smith became a vocal supporter of racial equality in sports and society, utilizing his platform to speak out against injustice. Smith and Carlos received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award in 2008 for their gutsy stand in the 1968 Summer Olympics. Their demonstration, while contentious at the time, is now seen as a watershed moment in the history of civil rights activism, awakening people to the fight for racial justice.


Racism in Football: Challenges and Initiatives:

Vinicius Jr., a Brazilian forward for Real Madrid, condemned racism in La Liga and Spain after being subjected to racial taunts during a match against Valencia in May 2023. This episode highlighted the ongoing problem of racism in Spanish football, which has also affected other countries. In Italy, for example, 171 Juventus fans were barred from entering a stadium after yelling racist remarks toward Inter Milan striker Romelu Lukaku. Similarly, France's Kylian Mbappe and England's Marcus Rashford and Bukayo Saka received racial abuse online following major football events. Racism has long been an issue in Spain, as evidenced by numerous events. In April 2000, Malaga's Dario Silva was charged with violence after hitting a spectator who allegedly screamed anti-Black remarks at him.

During a November 2004 friendly match between Spain and England, Spanish fans chanted racial remarks at many English players. In 2004, Barcelona's Samuel Eto'o responded to racist taunts from Getafe fans by making ape-like motions to mimic monkey noises. These incidences, along with those involving players such as Paulo Wanchope, Carlos Kameni, and Dani Alves, demonstrate the continuous fight against racism in Spanish football. Spanish police launched a hate crime investigation after an effigy wearing Vinicius Jr's No. 20 shirt was hung from a bridge in front of Real Madrid's training ground ahead next to a banner in Atletico Madrid's red and white colours that read "Madrid hates Real "In February 2023, La Liga filed a legal complaint after Vinicius Jr. was racially harassed by Real Mallorca fans, which resulted in Mallorca removing a fan's membership card for three years.

These occurrences are striking reminders of the ongoing battle against racism in Spanish football. Now let’s delve into one of the landmark Instances in the history when it comes to Racism. England  were playing Italy in the Euros final 2020 where the game eventually ended 1-1. After that the teams commenced for Penalty shootouts where Three players Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka missed their spot kicks. As a result, England were finished 2nd in the Competition and then all three players were subjected to online racist remarks. Police had arrested 11 people as they continue a hate crimes investigation into social media messages sent after the Euro 2020 final. 

Following the match, the UK Football Policing Unit received 600 allegations of racial remarks directed at the players. Out of these, 207 were judged criminal, with 123 coming from individuals in other countries and 34 from the United Kingdom. In response, 11 people have been arrested as part of a hate crime probe investigating the hateful messages. Chief Constable Mark Roberts, the National Police Chiefs' Council Football Policing lead, stated unequivocally that individuals who believe they can hide behind social media accounts to publish such heinous comments would be sought and imprisoned.

The vast majority of arrests were conducted on suspicion of malicious communications or violating the Communications Act 2003, which includes transmitting messages that are excessively insulting or menacing. Meanwhile, Bukayo Saka received a wall of supporting notes from his club, Arsenal, leaving him "speechless" and delighted for the amazing love he received. The event generated widespread condemnation and calls for tougher measures against internet abuse.


Impact of Racial Abuse on Mental Health:

Often Fans and People Don’t realize how much of a stroll it could take on someone’s Mental Health when they often Racially abuse some of the professionals. Lewis Hamilton said he had bananas thrown at him and was repeatedly called the N-word at school. Lewis Hamilton, a seven-time Formula One world champion, said in a recent podcast that he suffered terrible racial abuse while attending school in Stevenage, United Kingdom. Hamilton described being bullied and physically abused, with events including having bananas thrown at him and being called the N-word. He regarded school as the most difficult and distressing experience of his life, emphasizing the lack of support and understanding he perceived from authority figures such as the headmaster.

Despite enduring such obstacles, Hamilton has been a vocal advocate for diversity and inclusion in motorsport, launching programs such as Mission 44 and ignite to address these concerns. Hamilton's experiences demonstrate the pervasiveness of racism and the long-term damage it may have on individuals. From a legal standpoint, these occurrences call into question the effectiveness of anti-discrimination laws, as well as the necessity for increased awareness and enforcement. Hamilton's tale reminds us of the need of addressing racism at all levels of society, including educational institutions, in order to build a more inclusive and respectful atmosphere for all.

Regulations and Player Punishments for Racism in Sports:

To prevent racism and discriminatory behavior in sports, a variety of restrictions have been implemented. The Australian Football League (AFL), for example, has adopted a tough line since the implementation of Rule 30 in 1995, which is expressly meant to combat racial and religious vilification. Furthermore, FIFA has the right to impose longer suspensions on football players or officials for racist, discriminatory, or disrespectful behaviour. If a team's supporters are discovered to be engaging in such activity, they may risk significant fines and forfeiture of their matches. In terms of government intervention, there are initiatives to raise awareness of racism and racial discrimination in sports, as well as to urge the media to report on racist incidents.

Some national athletic organizations have implemented policies that expressly state a zero-tolerance stance to racism, with the goal of ensuring that sports are free of such prejudice. Racist behavior in sports can have legal effects in the public realm, with perpetrators of racism in sports crowds facing consequences. Organizations such as the NAACP are adamantly opposed to prejudice and racial behavior at school sports games in the United States, showing a societal desire to eliminate such negativity from the educational sports environment. Furthermore, high-profile legal cases, such as Brian Flores' complaint alleging discrimination in NFL hiring practices, show the relationship between sports litigation, social justice, and the law .These actions highlight the need for the judicial system to confront not only overt racism, but also systematic inequalities in the sports sector.


To summarize, racism is a continuous and detrimental issue in sports, hurting players, fans, and society as a whole. Despite progress in some areas, episodes of racism persist, both on and off the field, emphasizing the importance of continued efforts to eliminate discrimination and promote inclusivity. Tommie Smith and John Carlos, Lewis Hamilton, and many others exemplify the courage and perseverance required to confront racism in athletics. While legislation and fines can help address racist behaviour, meaningful change needs a concerted effort by players, coaches, administrators, spectators, and governing bodies. By working together to combat prejudice and promote equality, we can ensure that sports achieve their promise to unite people and inspire positive change.

*The Author is a legal Scholar from India

(The Image used here is for representative purposes only)


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