When England and Montenegro played each other in a European football tournament qualification match in Podgorica, Montenegro, on March 25, there were numerous reports of racist chanting by some fans directed at Black players on the pitch.
A Black player on the England team who scored in the game, Raheem Sterling, later tweeted “best way to silence the haters (and yeah, I mean racists)” referring to his goal.
The European football governing body, UEFA, has since launched an investigation.
On the same day at the United Nations in New York, countries were meeting to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
While sports, and football in particular, has been in the spotlight for years for open displays of various forms of racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance, it is acknowledged that the vice permeates many sections of society around the world.
“Hate speech is entering the mainstream, spreading like a wildfire through social media and radio. And we are seeing it spread in liberal societies and totalitarian states alike,” said United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, at the meeting in New York.
“When people are attacked physically, verbally or in social media because of their race, religion or ethnicity, all of society is diminished. It is crucial for all of us to join hands, stand up, and defend the principle of equality and human dignity,” said the Secretary-General, adding that he has initiated the development of a UN system-wide strategy and programme of action to combat hate speech.
The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, March 21, was established by the United Nations to advocate for and galvanise efforts to combat racism globally. The date was chosen to honour victims of the Sharpeville Massacre in South Africa, when security forces opened fire on peaceful protestors against apartheid, killing 69, on March 21, 1960.
“Racism’s callous, multi-lane intersections with poverty, age, disability, gender identity and sexual orientation, means that race-based contempt, and the inequalities it fosters, is all the more hateful for women of African descent; for indigenous people defending their land rights against rapacious developers; for those who, in flight from conflict and crisis, seek exercise of their right to asylum; for human rights defenders who, at risk even to their lives, bravely stand up against hatefulness,” said UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kate Gilmore.
This year’s commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination came in the wake of an apparently islamophobic attack by a racial supremacist on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 15, in which at least 50 people were killed.
“The resurgence of ethno-nationalist populism and extreme supremacist ideologies, and the dead bodies that lie in the wake of this resurgence, make clear that greater urgency is required within the United Nations, and among Member States to tackle racial discrimination, racism, xenophobia and related intolerance,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on racism, Tendayi Achiume.
Citing the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination of 1965, the Special Rapporteur said that states are required not just to treat the symptoms of racial discrimination but to address the underlying, embedded, systemic causes of discrimination.
Moreover, she said, the fight against racism should not be left to the victims alone. “Every single person—especially those who enjoy racial, ethnic, religious, gender or class privilege on a daily basis—must play their part to put an end to the racism, xenophobia and related intolerance that prevails today.”
“Nationalist populism and supremacist ideologies based on racial superiority are not a mere exercise of freedom of expression, of thought or association; a mere defense of one's cultural heritage or of the economic interests of certain groups…nor are they an ordinary political current,” said Nourredine Amir, the chair of the UN Committee that oversees implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. “They also foster division in our increasingly plural and multi-ethnic societies; they pose a threat to social cohesion in our societies and must be rejected.”
Human rights values provide pathways to combat the advance of racism today. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March that national legislation, politicians and religious leaders can play a critical role in prevention of intolerance, discriminatory stereotyping and hate speech.
“We need to call out and openly condemn all messages – especially political messages or discourses – which disseminate ideas based on racial superiority or hatred, or which incite racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance,” she said. “You can care about your country and still care about the world. You can care about your community, and your family, and respect the diversity of others. To promote one's own rights at the expense of others' is the highway to destruction – for all of society”