In sport, what does being White mean?

Sport can be a superb equaliser. If you point two men in the same direction and tell them to run, it’s one versus one, man on man. At its origins sport is simple, run, jump, kick, throw – it doesn’t need to get more complex. How many times have coaches or managers said in post-match press conferences how the team kept things simple or did the basics right?

I live in London – White London? British London? Imperial London? I’m not originally from the capital but I am British, I’m a white female proud to be living under the Union #fleg. This is not usually something I think about but then identity is often a state of mind, your own or somebody else’s. The category we place ourselves in comes to the fore if we feel it is threatened or if we are the minority.

At the weekend I attended an event run by Sport4Women. It was an opportunity to go to my local leisure centre to try out some new activities and meet some like-minded people. I invited a friend to come along with me (a black, South African who I met through a sports club).

There were several sessions we could take part in so we decided to give cricket and rounders a go. As is the nature of these programmes there were some forms to fill out to keep tabs on you, determine who/what you are, other than a woman, and to squeeze feedback from you afterwards. Standard information was sought – name, email address, age, and then ethnic background was asked for. I looked down the list and no-one had ticked White. I looked around the room and no-one was White, except me. This hadn’t occurred to me until the options were presented on paper. I hadn’t felt illuminated because of my whiter than white skin (I’m pale!), nor intimidated, or threatened, or daunted. Neither did I feel like I was making a statement, was the token White person or was boldly stepping out into the bullring. What I thought was, I fancy playing a bit of cricket, should probably go to the hall where the cricket is then.

Once the fact that I was the only White person there was pointed out, I asked myself why was this the case? Was I the only woman who thought the way I did or was I missing something? Should I not have been there in that council run leisure centre in East London? Is that not the kind of place I should hang out in?

The non-White people didn’t seem to mind me being there. I wasn’t left hanging when I went to high-5 my newly founded teammates. Maybe the focus should be on where did all the White people go? Are they too lazy, antisocial, obese, shy or haughty to participate? Maybe the Olympics legacy lasted as long as a lightning Bolt hitting an athletics track.

Sport and identity cannot and will not be separated. Past examples are easy to come-by – Boxer Barry McGuigan, the Black Power salute, South Africa apartheid, athlete Cathy Freeman – all standing up for an identity. But in 2013 in a globalised world, one identity does not exist in isolation. What will not help to educate or inform people is if one group comes out in the world while another shuns the light. Venture out, get involved, say I fancy playing a bit of 5-aside, and go and do it, for the sake of sport and for identity.

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