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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London prepared?

London was awarded the Olympics in 2007, since then there has been a steady stream of information, relevant or not, interesting or not released about the various aspects of the Games. When the leaning clock of Westminster chimed midnight to ring in this new year, the 2012 floodgates opened. The Olympic marketing machine must be on performance enhancing steroids such is the intensity of the information produced on every detail of the event. Well not every detail; as we know LOCOG is a private company and doesn’t have to reveal how it runs its operation particularly when ticket distribution is questioned. The ‘no publicity is bad publicity’ adage doesn’t apply when skeptical MPs and taxpayers catch the smell of blood in their nostrils.

Half a decade after the confirmation the greatest sporting show in world was coming to my backdoor, I finally go into the Olympic park. Having looked at the giant triangular white fittings of the still unnamed stadium from far and near this week I got to cross the boundary line and cross into an actual Olympic venue. The oversaturation of insignificant minutiae concerning how fabulously the London has risen an Olympic spectacular from the ashes of the East threatens to overshadow the actual Games itself. I went to the diving World Cup held at the Aquatics centre as part of the London Prepares series, one of the test events for this venue, determined to take it all in. I wanted to assess the experience like a rad-taped obsessed clinical pen pusher as well as a sports fanatic desperate for a stat attack.

The London Aquatics Centre during its unveilin...

London Aquatics centre will host the diving competitions during the Olympics

The World Cup passed both rigorous examinations. Compared to the numbers attending the real Olympic competition, the amount of people around the park was small but getting to the venue, through security and seated was a breeze. The queues weren’t long and the bag check was painless. The stewards could do with some extra briefing though. Everyone I spoke to was pleasant and smiling but their knowledge seemed to be restricted to their role on the one spot they were instructed to go to and stay put on. When I asked one man which venue was next to the Aquatics centre (which men were casually walking on the roof of) he took a wild stab in the dark and plucked a sport from his brain which when it came out of his mouth he seemed uncertain if it was even a sport let alone a plausible answer to my question. Not a disaster by any means but the query was a mere starter for ten, and the staff, and/or volunteers will need to be ready for many more peculiar inquiries than that.

Sports wise the event went without a glitch aside from the final dive of one of the British athletes. If organisers thought this would go according to script they are in for a rude awakening!