Sports – a multitude of games that develop personal growth and ambition – a gateway for team building and moments of sheer individual brilliance. Above it all, sport, like every other area of life, should be a place totally free of discrimination.
When the latest government report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities published their findings last month and stated that the UK is “not deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities,” there was widespread surprise and anger. For anyone who’s fallen down threads on Twitter and Instagram recently, especially those belonging to public figures such as athletes, the rhetoric of the report was a hard pill to swallow. The report, its numerous critics pointed out, failed to join the dots between skewed employment stats, societal structures, the criminal justice system, and media narratives. What’s more, it failed to highlight how all these things can then fuel racism in everyday life.
“Sport, like every other area of life, should be a place totally free of discrimination”
Just the other day, Liverpool FC Women player Rinsola Babajide was the target of racist and sexist abuse online – the 22-year-old posted about her new boots on her Instagram account to which a user replied saying: “football is only for men…” followed by the use of a racial slur.
Events like this are happening on these platforms, and in real life, as an everyday occurrence. From racial slurs to lack of representation, these are just some of the big issues that ethnic minorities encounter.
In the face of all this, countless groups are standing up for what they believe in. Take Black Girls Hike and Steppers UK. They are bringing diversity to the UK’s countryside with their inspiring walking groups
Changing the face of sport is no easy mission. For Muslim women, hurdles are everywhere. They are, as well as racism and misrepresentation in tabloids, met with setbacks that range from cultural pressure, familial judgment, and even bans on the hijab (the Islamic headscarf).
Even the Olympic Games, that supposed bastion of global unity and togetherness, has had bans on hijabs in previous editions. On the surface, the 2016 Rio Olympics may have looked like a monumental win for Muslim women as 14 female athletes found themselves amongst the medals. However, the counterargument there is that this was from a spread of 306 events (there will be, if it goes ahead, 339 events at the next Olympics).
“Changing the face of sport is no easy mission”
If the dream of equality is ever going to be reached, there’s a sense that sporting associations need to step forward into the 21st century and accept the changing nature of the world. They don’t have an excuse. Sports hijabs exist and are fully operational – they pose no risk to the athlete, and they should never, it’s reasonably argued, have had a ban placed on them in the first place.
This being said, Rio 2016 did have some positive signs that real change was starting to take place. Fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad made history by becoming the first American to compete in the Olympics while wearing a hijab. Dalilah Muhammad also became the first Muslim American woman to win a gold medal in the 400 metre hurdles.
So, where does England fit into all of this? Well, look closely enough and you’ll find that, up-and-down the country young Muslim women athletes are not only rising but thriving.