[I would love to indulge in a pseudo-analysis of the FIFA-Blatter fumble, but I won’t.] Unbeknownst to many, I once played golf. I joined the girls ‘Go-Go Golf’ programme in the 6th grade and represented my school at the provincial round-up. There, I was selected to represent the province at the Vodacom national round-up in Carletonville, Gauteng of which I remember to be a long, candy-filled are-we-there-yet drive with the regional coordinator.
I was one of the younger girls. Complimentary golf balls, golf shoes, sweat towels and the tournament T-shirt was a thrill for any 11 year old. With no more than a dozen black girls competing, I remember one of the girls – she was older and louder and chubby. As it turned out, she was also very good at her game making it to the final round screened on SportsBuzz. But all of these details are sketchy compared to the one that I never forget.
It was just after dinner as I walked from the bathroom through the common area. Going to the bathroom, I had heard chirping from a group seated on the couch but took little notice of it. The second time that I passed the group, one of the girls perched on the couch called at me, looked me straight in the eye with a self-satisfied smirk and stated: “jy’s so lelik dat jou ma wil nie prentjies van jou oppie [sic] muur sit, want dan sit allie [sic] vlieë op it [sic]” My first native South African language is Afrikaans; I heard her clearly. She was a white girl who didn’t look much older than me. For a few seconds, I stood shocked that a fellow competitor could take me on in a manner – I believe – was a reference to my skin color. I walked away.
But for years, I looked back on that exchange. Was I a slow-minded person to have not retorted? Should I have defended myself ? Am I ugly? After being eliminated in the primary stages of the final, a worse thoughts crossed my mind: Is being black unwelcome in sport? Did I even know how to play the game? Am I really ugly?
When FIFA President Sepp Blatter subconsciously fumbles about racism in sport, it reminds me of this type of experience. Racism is an ingrained irritant across all nations; the socio-cultural rifles for it are always cocked. But whilst strides are being made against all forms of discrimination in sport, the intricacies and impact of a racial exchange between players, administrators or officials must never be underestimated or reduced to handshake diplomacy. [I would love to indulge in a pseudo -analysis of the FIFA-Blatter fumble, but I won’t.]