Taming Bigotry

MELBOURNE –At a time when the horrific events in Norway remind us how much murderous bigotry there still is in the world, perhaps a story from the other side of it can restore a little optimism that some positive, historically significant, changes in attitude really are occurring.

Last month in Australia, a major-league football player was fined, suspended, and – as a result of intensive negative coverage in the press – experienced profound public humiliation. What was unusual about the case, and the scale of the response, was his offense. It was not a thuggish tackle, abuse of the umpire, or match-fixing in collusion with gamblers. It was just a taunting remark heard only by his opponent. But his opponent was Nigerian-born, and the remark was a racist insult.

Just a few days earlier, in an incident that also drew significant media attention and condemnation, a spectator hurling racial abuse at a Sudanese-born player was escorted from the ground and banned from attending future matches unless he undertook racism-awareness education.

Not many years ago, in Australia – as in most of the rest of the world – these kinds of incidents would have passed utterly unremarked and without redress. They were not serious – just part of the game, uttered in the heat of the gladiatorial contest on the field and the passionate partisan cheering in the stands.