“Hating people because of their color is wrong. And it doesn’t matter which colour does the hating. It’s just plain wrong.” – Muhammad AliAustralia is often described as “The Lucky Country”. Pretty good weather, pretty nice people, pretty relaxed lifestyle. And honestly, I find it hard to disagree with that sentiment.
However, sometimes that almost carefree type of attitude leads to negativity – particularly when it comes to sport.
I myself was born in Bombay (or Mumbai as it’s now known), India – but came to Australia before I even knew how to hold a cricket bat. I’ve lived here basically all my life, went through pre-school, primary school, high school and recently university – all here on the biggest island in the world.
Despite my largely Indian origins, the little bit of Portuguese in me won the sporting battle. Football, or soccer as it’s sometimes more affectionately known in Australia, was the sport for me. The World Game, the beautiful game.
I started playing when I was five, and 2014 has been my 16th straight year playing the game.
In fairness, the first 13 or so years were pretty incident free – a bit of banter here and there but nothing more than that (as the perennial sports cliché goes). But over the last few seasons I’ve experienced some pretty unfortunate moments.
When I was young I developed a skin condition called vitiligo. It’s hereditary, and effectively it just plays with skin pigment, often resulting in discolouring. It’s nothing crazy, like most things you get used to it and learn to deal with it in your own ways – that’s life.
Long story short, it’s almost become a catalyst for a range of racial abuse on the sporting field. The first incident came last year, and it shook me up. It was a comment from the sidelines during a game and my teammates told me what was said since I couldn’t really hear anything on the pitch.
After some confrontation, things naturally got a bit heated, but the player apologised for his comments and I thought I’d just leave it there.
But come this season, enough was enough.
It was halfway through a game, and I got into a little tangle with an opposition player from a club in the Nepean District I play in. There was sledging back and forth between the two of us – that’s sport, I’m not going to pretend like I don’t get amongst the chatter on the pitch.
That was until the opposition player decided to mutter a few words that were pretty crushing. I don’t want to write them because they were pretty horrible and the few times I have repeated them to teammates even they got quite fired up.
Things threatened to boil over on the field, it was probably one of the worst moments I’ve ever experienced in life in general – forget sport. Just imagine someone putting you down over something that’s out of your control, basically for no reason.
After the game the coach and I had a chat about the whole situation, and as a result I then went about reporting it to the team I play for. Two of my teammates even sent in statements about the incident, that’s how serious it was. And this is probably the most disheartening thing about it all – that was over three months ago, and despite a number of follow-ups with the club, there’s been no response.
No call. No emails back. Not even the standard “we’ll look into it” – just straight ignorance. It’s pretty disappointing that when you’re on the receiving end of racial abuse, and when you actually decide to do something about it, you get nothing back.
And you know what, even though it may have ended up being a “my word against his” type of result, at least some awareness of the issue would have been raised. But it looks like it will just fall by the way side.
It comes on the back of several larger incidents of racial abuse in Australian sport throughout the year, including some pretty awful stuff at the weekend’s AFL Grand Final regarding Adam Goodes.
Goodes was pretty courageous when he called out a racial taunt during an AFL match last year, because let’s be honest – he was going to cop some backlash from other fans, for some ludicrous reason, as he did. And that’s what the issue is in the bigger picture – in what language or country is racism acceptable in any form?
And that’s not to mention incidents with Majak Daw, Linday Thomas, Ben Barba earlier this year, or Timana Tahu a few years back. The list goes on.
I understand it’s easy to get fired up and say things in the heat of the moment, especially in sport. But when it comes to racial issues and putting someone down because of the colour of their skin or where they come from, the time has come for a change in attitude. It’s time to stand up and have a voice.
It’s time to stand up and have a voice, because at the end of the day, all our blood bleeds the same colour.