By Suzy Monzer and Thelma Kwaramba

The media’s response to racism in sport often contributes to the problem and demonstrates the lack of diversity in the industry, according to experts.

They added the racist reaction of some England football fans to their European Cup loss this week was exacerbated by insensitive or dismissive reporting of the issue abroad and in Australia.

England’s defeat by Italy over missing penalties in the European Cup final resulted in the racial abuse of three black players – Bukayo Saka, 19, Marcus Rashford, 23, and Jadon Sancho, 21.

Although many officials and organisations have come forward to condemn the racist attacks, including England’s Football Association and members of the English parliament, many athletes and members of the public are expressing their frustration with the hypocrisy that arises during these situations.

“You don’t get to stoke the fire at the beginning of the tournament by labelling our anti-racism message as ‘Gesture Politics’ and then pretend to be disgusted when the very thing we’re campaigning against, happens,” tweeted English soccer player Tyrone Mings.

As news organisations began to publish stories surrounding this topic, it wasn’t long before some found themselves facing criticism for the way in which they were reporting the story.

News organisations are amongst the largest and most influential institutions that impact the way we see and understand the world around us, yet the role of the media is also often overlooked.

Australian commercial news station Channel 7 found itself in an online controversy earlier this week after explicitly stating in a social media caption that ‘three black players’ had failed by missing the penalty goals. 

The caption included irrelevant information which marginalised the players by associating their race with the failure. 

Although they released an apology, many are requesting a formal investigation into the issue.

“While they’ve apologised, we want a formal investigation because there are a lot of people who aren’t convinced it was a mistake, a lot of people think it was deliberate and that is disgusting from anyone’s standard,” said Studio 10 panelist Narelda Jacobs.

The 2019 Who Gets to Tell Australian Stories Report released by Media Diversity Australia found that 7 News Australia had zero Indigenous on-air staff and zero Indigenous editorial leaders or board members. The same study also found that 95 per cent of reporters and presenters had Anglo or European backgrounds.

Doctor Nasya Bahfen, a researcher with the Centre for Sports and Social Impact at La Trobe University said: “They’ve got to say… what we did was wrong, and we’re taking steps to ensure that our staff members realise that this is completely and utterly unacceptable and, we’ll be taking steps to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”

Australian media has a history of doing a disservice to diverse stories regarding racism and discrimination.

From the experiences of AFL’s Adam Goodes and Nicky Winmar, to NRL’s Latrell Mitchell and Indigenous sprinter and icon, Cathy Freeman, no Indigenous sport or sportsperson is shielded from racism.

The Do Better Report commissioned by Collingwood Football Club earlier this year found that there were no effective means for players to make complaints about racism at Collingwood and that responses to claims of racism were defensive.

This defensiveness is mirrored in the media responses to any claims of racism and is often times detrimental to the complainant.

It added that combatting the normalisation of racism in Australia’s media landscape starts with carefully considering the language used in news reports.

“If we allow the language of media to go unchecked in talking about black sportspeople, it continues a cycle of colonially driven oppression through our media institutions,” said Daanyal Saeed, student journalist and footballer for the University of Sydney.

Professor Lori Latrice Martin, sociologist and professor in the Department of African and African American Studies and Faculty Athletics Representative at Louisiana State University, highlights that diversity in news organisations will help reduce inaccurate and problematic reporting.

“Mainstream media outlets need to call out racism when they see it, but in order to be able to see it they need to have people within their organisations at all levels who can provide important feedback on addressing race and racism,” she said.

Many athletes in the past including former German soccer star Mesut Ozil and our own Goodes, have expressed a frustration with the higher standard to which they are held compared to their white peers.

“When you’re black and wearing a jersey and you’re winning, people are crazy, but when you lose they hate you, or when you take that jersey off and walk in the community, you’re treated in the same way that members of the larger black population are,” said Professor Martin.

Graphic by: Suzy Monzer

“We shouldn’t be surprised when racism shows up in sports.

“Some people think about sports as just a form of entertainment and that politics and race have no place in sports but there is so much evidence that points to sports being a social institution that is impacted by all the issues that impact broader society.”

She said one of the biggest barriers to successfully combating racism is to challenge the view that we live in a post-racial world in which everyone is equal. 

“Some people define racism so narrowly and … only see the burning of a church or recorded police brutality as racism,” she said.

“Once we recognise that racism is a multi-level and multi-dimensional system of oppression whereby members of the dominant groups-scape subordinate groups – then we can see reactions to professional athletes within different contexts as evidence of racism, so we need to redefine racism to have a starting point.”

We all have a responsibility, including and especially if we belong to the dominant culture.

There is a significant amount of change that needs to take place within the media’s representation of racism, which includes being held accountable for mistakes, and members of the sporting organisations, public and government developing a collective, consistent and active anti-racist response to incidents of racism.

 “We all have a responsibility, including and especially if we belong to the dominant culture; we have to absolutely be aware and conscious of our privilege,” said Ms Bahfen.

“Race is always at the centre of these situations, even if it’s not being mentioned [and] it’s important to continue to have these conversations and continue to change the narrative and speak truth to power,” Professor Martin said.

Twitter: @suzy_monzer & @thelmakwar

Main image by Melbourne Streets Avante-garde/Flickr