While the COVID-19 pandemic has been having a very negative impact on global life, another development, originating in the United States (US) but not confined to that country, has been having a much more positive effect on life worldwide. We speak here of the centuries- old struggle for justice and equality and to put an end to racism.
In the US in particular, for many years there have been reports, not only of racial injustices, but also of the wilful murder of black people, principally by police, and the failure of the justice system both to ensure that these perpetrators pay the full consequences for their actions as well as to put measures in place to prevent or at least minimize such occurrences.
But the year 2020, starting with the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May, and continuing with each new case of homicide against innocent blacks, has seen a turning point in the reaction to such racial murders. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have taken to the streets not just in protest, but demanding redress. In addition, white people have joined in the protests which have also spread to many other countries in the world.
One additional positive factor has been the role played by sportspersons in the anti-racism drive. Stellar athletes in the main sporting disciplines in the US have come out strongly in support of the protests and demanded concrete actions to promote and ensure social justice and racial equality. Never has the sporting power of athletes been employed to such an effect forcing the mighty sporting bodies in the US and the world to acknowledge that “Black Lives Matter” and pledging commitment to the aims of the movement for racial and social justice.
The role of black athletes, men and women alike, in all this has been very commendable, not only in protests, but in mobilizing at the community level as well as using some of the wealth earned from their sporting prowess to help black causes at the community level. Significantly too, black athletes, of both sexes, have realized the power they possess to influence discussion and action and, especially by using social media, have become an important vehicle for change.
On Saturday last, one of these young sporting “superstars”, Naomi Osaka, born of a Japanese mother and Haitian father, but reared in the US, won her second US Open tennis title in three years. The 22-year-old black player has rapidly become one of the shining stars of global tennis, but has always been considered quite shy and reserved.
The blatant acts of murder and racial injustice have caused her to come to the forefront. In the tournament before the US Open, she refused to play her semi-final to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake, a black man, by police in Wisconsin, forcing organisers to have to postpone the entire tournament for the entire day. She has more and more been using the platforms available to her to speak out for social equality and racial justice.
But there is another aspect of her work which is also laudable. Naomi seems to realize what influence those at the top of their game can have. The bigger your sporting achievements, the more you are in the limelight. Thus one’s conduct and outreach are also significant factors. Above all, Naomi’s championship title sends a message to all black athletes and sportspersons to aim for the top, for in this world, Black Champions matter!