Sport

In Britain, black people are excluded from decision-making in top-flight football. It will take more than one club appointment to change that

If you are white, you might think that English football is gloriously multiracial. After all, over a quarter of the players in the Premiership are black and much the same is true of the lower leagues. Alas, you would be wrong. Many players are black and, predictably, so are many who do football’s menial jobs such as catering, parking and security; but after that you enter an overwhelmingly white world. Virtually all the club chairmen and directors are white. Most outrageously of all, virtually every manager, even though they are almost always former players, is white.

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England will never produce a true world tennis star until the sport loses its white, middle-class profile

Even now, following his tennis exploits at the US Open, there is only grudging respect for Andy Murray on the part of many. Imagine if Tim Henman had reached the final of the US Open – the media would have been going bonkers.
If we applied the same criteria to our football stars as we use for our tennis players, hardly anyone would pass muster: Wayne Rooney would be condemned as an oik, not fit to represent our nation.

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Ian Wright’s departure from the BBC’s football punditry team casts shame on the corporation: it is guilty of cultural apartheid

So Ian Wright has decided to quit the BBC as a football pundit because he was made to look like a “comedy jester”. Too right. That is exactly how he was treated by the other pundits, Gary Lineker, Alan Hansen, and Alan Shearer. Wright was always made to look and feel as if he was the odd one out, never taken too seriously, his judgments discounted, his views made fun of, his relationship with his step-son Shaun Wright-Phillips the object of regular hilarity. It was demeaning; you could see Wright squirming, unsure of how to deal with it. As a viewer I found it embarrassing and distasteful. It was a grown man’s version of picking on someone in the school playground.

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He lost at the last but Lewis Hamilton rocked all expectations – and not just in formula one

A black formula one world champion seemed, even last year, unthinkable, yet Lewis Hamilton so nearly made it. This is a sport that has long suffered from an almost total white-out. Apart from the Japanese, virtually every face in the paddock, let alone on the starting grid, was, until recently, white. This is hardly surprising. The more expensive and/or exclusive a sport, the whiter it tends to be: the fact almost has the force of a law. That is the main reason why the Rugby World Cup, the Pacific islands excepted, was so desperately white, the Springboks included.

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Around a decade ago, Bernie Ecclestone, the guy who runs Formula One, began to make ominous noises about the prospects for F1 in Europe, suggesting that the sport’s future instead lay in the East. Now Bernie is no mug – you don’t become as rich as he is without being very smart. Not least, he is perceptive at spotting new trends. He recognised the potential of TV broadcasting and its associated rights before virtually anyone else in Europe. And he was right about the growing importance of East Asia (though hardly the first to notice it).

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Hamilton is an inspiration to black Britain – but his sport will remain white, writes Martin Jacques

There is little doubt, even at this early stage of his first season in Formula One, that Lewis Hamilton is a special talent, far eclipsing recent British drivers such as Jenson Button and David Coulthard. He has the great advantage of driving for one of F1′s most successful teams in a sport where equipment counts for far more than in any other. Michael Schumacher in a Toro Rosso would have made for great entertainment, but even his genius would still have been reduced to life in mid-field. Even with the advantage of driving for McLaren, though, Hamilton still looks exceptional – extremely fast, cool, mature beyond his years, and not in the least fazed by having the world champion, Fernando Alonso, as his team-mate. From his very first race, it felt as if Hamilton was born to be at the front of the grid, displaying, like Schumacher in 1991, an extraordinary self-confidence, an inner-belief that he was inferior to no driver. Yet this has been combined with a humility that is at once endearing and disarming.

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The umpire at the centre of the ball-tampering row has a record of making decisions against players from the Indian subcontinent

Most extraordinary scenes surrounded the test match between Pakistan and England yesterday. The Australian umpire Darrell Hair declared that the Pakistanis had tampered with the ball, a grave accusation, and proceeded to award England five runs and then allowed their batsmen to choose a new ball. The Pakistanis understandably were deeply aggrieved. The umpires failed to consult the Pakistan captain prior to their decision nor offer any kind of explanation for their decision. This is not an isolated incident as far as Darrell Hair is concerned. He has a history of making decisions against not only Pakistan players, but also those from India and Sri Lanka.

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Corruption results from the transformed cultural and economic position that these global events have come to occupy

The summer, of course, is the high noon of sport. The World Cup, the European Athletics Championships, Wimbledon, the Tour de France and the British Open are among the highlights. Over the last 10 years, the prominence that sport occupies in global culture has been transformed. It has become one of the key components of the global entertainment industry: great sporting occasions can be accessed by the press of a button in our living rooms, television sports rights have become hugely valuable, sports stars are global icons and role models, commanding millions in both income and sponsorship deals.

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The World Cup is a marvel of global representation. So why is it getting whiter?

This World Cup, therefore, should not be confined to the quality of the football (surely a disappointment, with a truly great team failing to emerge) but also deal with its broader cultural meaning. In this respect it has been an even bigger disappointment. With this World Cup, global football has taken a step backwards.

The importance of football has grown in direct proportion to its ability to become genuinely global and not primarily European. Unlike virtually The World Cup is not just a great global sporting event, it is also inscribed with much deeper cultural and political importance. Any evaluation of every other human activity – from politics and economics to universities and the military – football has managed to give a growing place in the sun to those who are normally marginalised and unrepresented. The growing importance of Africa and Asia in football are testimony to this.

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Ronaldinho is now the highest-earning footballer in the world. It is a victory for both his footballing genius and skin-colour.

Good news, for a change. I read this morning that, according to the magazine France Football, Ronaldinho has overtaken David Beckham as the highest paid footballer in the world. Good news for two reasons.

First, it is good to think that the greatest footballer in the world is also the highest paid in terms of salary, sponsorship and the rest of it. Beckham is a player of distinctly limited talent: he probably never rated in the world’s top 20 in terms of ability, and certainly does not now. His value has been to do with his looks rather than his skill. Beckham is about celebrity, about the Hollywoodisation of football. On the eve of the World Cup, it is good to think that footballers are, above all, appreciated for their footballing skills. And Ronaldinho is a magician who is about to delight hundreds of millions of people around the world with his special brand of magic.

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