Racism and the roar of the crowd
Like many of you, I was looking forward to what is being billed as the ‘Summer of Sport’, the near back-to-back occurrence of the European Cup held in Poland and Ukraine followed by the London Olympics. Yet my anticipation has been dampened by reports that racist abuse is likely to be a feature of the UEFA matches.
Racism is a nasty business. I experienced a little of it years ago as a Greek Cypriot living in England and being on the receiving end is not nice! However sure you are that racism has been eliminated, like one of those garden weeds that never seem to go away, it always manages to return, as noxious as ever. At the moment it seems to be increasingly prevalent on the terraces of football matches. I presume there is a natural tendency in all of us towards tribalism – the view that ‘our people are the best’ – and that this can all too easily slide into the racism of ‘their people are bad’.
It’s yet another manifestation of sin. The way in which big matches – and internationals in particular – encourage a flag-waving, slogan-chanting patriotism creates a fertile soil for racism. There is something about being in a big crowd – the excitement, the noise, the anonymity – that seems to act as a stimulant, bringing out the worst in people. Thoughts of amphitheatres and lions come to mind!
But what is to be done? Part of the problem is that if you hold that evolution is the sole architect of our existence then you could argue (please don’t) that racism has a scientific basis, that some races really are superior to others. Well, we know where that ends up and it may have been no coincidence that someone arranged for the England team to visit Auschwitz the other day.
Thankfully, as a Christian I believe that all men and women are given life in the image of God and that in Christ, all people – from whatever race – can be given new life and become the new people of God. Jesus deliberately overcame cultural and racial barriers by his dealings with Samaritans, Romans and other Gentiles. Jesus’ command that we should ‘love our neighbour’ utterly rules out any form of racism. The good news about Jesus is that he is wonderfully all-inclusive. Indeed, although there have been some dreadful blemishes due to misguided leadership, the history of Christianity has been remarkable in countering racism. We could instance William Wilberforce and the abolition of slavery and missionaries down the ages providing education, medical care and aid and being reconcilers to heal ancient tribal feuds. Actually, if you want to find a naturally occurring multiracial community then the best place to find one is almost any evangelical church in one of our cities. Racism is wrong not simply because society says so, but because God says so.
Racism in sport is dreadful in itself but it is also a disease that could spread from the stadium into society. The authorities need to deal with it in the most thorough manner possible; I would be sad if games are cancelled but I would be sadder still if, despite racial abuse, they’re allowed to continue.
Let’s commit ourselves to abolishing racism.
Revd. Canon J.John