By Bilal Ali
In recent weeks, football has once again been blighted by the cancer that is racism, and the recent spree of football “fans” voicing their disgust at black footballers has brought back some home truths.
These “fans” are in a minority, and it is only the minority that ignorantly voice their opinions publicly, but racism is a private prejudice that is stored so deeply inside some people that they’re not even aware of their discriminatory behaviour.
Growing up as an African-Australian Muslim, I was always made to believe that my parents migrated to a country of equal opportunity where the colour of your skin and how difficult your name is to pronounce has no bearing on the chances you have of making a success of yourself.
I grew up wanting to be a footballer, but my two left feet made it very clear that that was simply not an option. So, at a very young age I decided to combine my passion for writing with my love for football and pursue a career as a football journalist; so, at the age of 14, I wrote my first article.
I went on to pursue that dream at university, still looking at the world with the rose-tinted glasses that render every person the same colour – until a story emerged in the Australian media that opened my eyes to the ugly truth.
The story was of Waleed Aly being consulted by the Australian Football League (AFL) about a rule change, and the uproar that followed from enraged Australians that a brown Muslim man was being asked for his opinion about “their” game.
This tweet in particular was a personal favourite of mine.
Of the names mentioned there, the first two are ex-professional AFL footballers and the final three are journalists, so why is it that one name doesn’t belong with the rest?
Among those most aggrieved by this decision to consult a brown Muslim man was true blue Australian hero Shane Warne, who couldn’t possibly come to terms with the decision to ask Aly for his opinion; I mean, what would he know?
I was in my third year of university when this story came out, two months away from graduating from my dream degree, and I was hit with a sudden realisation that perhaps people that look like me and have a name like mine aren’t welcome in the world of sports media after all.
It was then that I realised that most of the reporters and journalists on my television don’t look anything like me, and that became a mental block that I am still trying to overcome.
The way black players are portrayed in the media is equally as discouraging, with newspapers like The Sun and The Daily Mail regularly villifying black footballers and praising white footballers, even if they have done the exact same thing.
The reaction to the recent spree of publicly-voiced racism in football has been encouraging, and although I need to go as far as the English media (where some publications are guilty of racism themselves) to see my race represented, I have been pleasantly surprised by how much condemnation the racists have been subject to.
However, racists come in all shapes and forms, from witty presenters on public radio to the hooligans that imitate monkey noises on the terraces of football stadia; and it isn’t until we understand that some of the most powerful racists are spreading this discrimination while shaking black hands and kissing brown babies that we’ll begin to drill down to the root of this issue that has threatened to divide mankind for centuries.