Good Sport

Breaking the colour barrier, and how

Sport is the one activity that has earned the greatest respect for black people. It has given blacks social mobility. Similar remarks can be made in the Indian context

Breaking the colour barrier, and how

Rohit Mahajan

Everton Weekes, the West Indies cricketer who recently died at age 95, had possibly the most disadvantaged start to his life — born black and very poor in a colony of Europe. Before sport, his would have been a sad, unremarkable life — maybe as an office menial, possibly an indentured worker on a cotton plantation. Talent and hard work made him a feared batsman, yet the colour bar kept him down. He could well have been the first coloured man to captain West Indies, but belief in the superiority of the white man meant that only whites could lead the team — much as the maharajas, comedic cricketers rather than talented cricketers, led the early Indian teams in the 1930s.

Gerry Alexander, the last white man to captain West Indies, was vastly inferior as a cricketer to the coloured men he captained. Conrad Hunte, Rohan Kanhai, Garry Sobers, Frank Worrell, Clyde Walcott, Sonny Ramadhin, Wes Hall, among others, were in the XI in Alexander's last Test as captain. What Alexander didn’t have as a cricketer, he made up with the paleness of his skin and his Cambridge education.

Whites were in the team by a self-given right. And a black man captaining a team with white players was an affront to white pride. And black pride? Well, it mattered not — before sport, conventional thought dictated that black people had little to be proud of. In Africa, in their own land, they were enslaved. Europe loosened its grip on Africa only in the 1960s. Zimbabwe was a colony until as recently as 1980. South Africa’s coloureds were under the inhuman Apartheid system less than 30 years ago.

Sport is the one activity that has earned the greatest respect for black people, it is the greatest moulder of black pride. It has given blacks social mobility. Similar remarks can be made in the Indian context, about India’s disadvantaged people turning to sport for social mobility.

BLM in sport

The American Declaration of Independence, made exactly 244 years ago, asserts two claims as facts — ‘all men are created equal’. Both claims have been debunked by science, which tells us that men (human beings) are not ‘created’ — we’ve evolved into our current physical state over millions of years; and that there’s no concept of equality in nature. Animals in the wild share an unequal relationship, which is governed mainly by strength.

Modern human beings owe their success mainly to the mind, but they are also inheritors of the legacy of inequality. Religions condone slavery, too — Muhammad Ali’s accepting Islam was an act of rebellion against Christianity, for he realised that having the same religion didn’t make him equal to the white man. Now, many blacks are giving up Islam for the same reason, citing scripture and history to prove that it condones slavery, and that their ancestors in north Africa were enslaved by the Arabs. Slavery was abolished in Iran only in 1929, and in Saudi Arabia in 1962. In regions that ISIS conquered, it brought back slavery.

Now, though, people across the world, of all hues, are trying to imagine and create an equal world — the worldwide Black Lives Matter protests are evidence of this. It's possibly the biggest global movement in the history of humankind.

Sport isn’t left untouched by it. Next week, top-flight cricket resumes with a Test series between England and West Indies — an apt contest for the times, a series between descendants of master and slave. West Indies will sport a ‘Black Lives Matter’ logo on their collars during the matches, and England said they would do the same. The players are doing their bit. Our own country, with far more complex inequalities, can also do with a national movement for equality for all, and sportspersons can be at its lead.

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