A football player was was sent off for making monkey noises at an African opponent (Dominion Post, April 10 2014, p.1) Capital Football, the governing body, suspended the player for 10 weeks. It is right that they took what might seem like a trivial offence seriously. There were similar incidents in England recently at Premier League level, where an anti-Semitic gesture was shown to an Israeli player, and the offending player was suitably disciplined.
We don't know what provoked the incident in Wellington. Perhaps the player who made monkey noises outplayed the African player, or perhaps it was the other way around, the African got the better of the offending player. Clearly the offending player did not appreciate the significance of his gesture. The smart ass argued that making monkey noises was not racist, as monkeys are not a race. But what if other players had followed suit, or the onlookers joined in. A stupid, idiotic gesture could have lead to an ugly incident. Such racist gestures have no place anywhere, but particularly not in sport, and especially not in football or rugby. Both these sports have brought people of various ethnicity together. There are outstanding young Somali and Ethiopian footballers waiting in the wings to become professionals. The A League is full of players of all colours from all parts of the world. The same is true of rugby, where the game is a way for Polynesian and Maori players to climb out of poverty and gain universal respect. There is a Japanese player playing for the Highlanders in Dunedin. There is a Fijian Indian and a Costa Rican of African origin playing for the Phoenix in the A League. It is bringing people of all stripes together that is the great virtue of football.
But what of the parents of the player who made the monkey noises. They were possibly on the sideline cheering him on. There are few others on the sideline at these games. What sort of values are they teaching their son? And worse, the investigation found allegations of at least 50 racially abusive comments recorded in the district in the past three years. Perhaps in other countries, other places, this would have hardly been noted, but one of the most attractive aspects of life in New Zealand is that people of all races, from all parts of the world live in harmony with little friction. Monkey noises are disturbing signs of an ugly racist undercurrent seldom acknowledged.