Letter: Of races,hurdles and sporting chances

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The Independent Online
From Mr Ben Carrington

Sir: Roger Bannister remarks (report, 14 September) that "black sprinters, and black athletes in general, all seem to have certain natural anatomical advantages", and he asserts that the "black race" (not defined) has through some magical evolutionary process, coupled with some hot weather, produced a "race" of ready-made sprinters. It may come as a shock to Sir Roger, and a good deal many of your readers, to learn that biologically distinct "races" do not exist.

"Races" are social constructs and have no relevance, therefore, as indicators for human behaviour, sporting or otherwise. In your leader you astonishingly suggest that anyone who resists Sir Roger's inaccurate conclusions are themselves white supremacists who cannot face the facts. This is utter nonsense, for it is the belief in the existence of "races" and their alleged influence on human behaviour which is itself racist.

Far from exposing the fallacy of Sir Roger's claims, your leader appears to endorse them, even quoting "American experts" who have argued that the rigours of slavery somehow "bred" a kind of "super Negro", ready to do battle on the worlds sporting arenas. The historical material we have available, however, reveals that those who survived the "middle passage" and the subsequent horrors of plantation life and slavery did so by recourse to their cognitive capabilities and not their brute strength.

Your final comment that "sport has always been, and still is, one of the few ways out of poverty for members of some minority communities" is one of the oldest lies. You may as well advise the black youth of our cities to play the National Lottery as a way "out of the ghetto", for their chances of becoming a Linford Christie are about the same and the financial rewards significantly greater.

If we want, as you claim, to start a serious discussion about the over- representation of certain ethnic groups in particular sports, we should begin by examining the well-documented channelling of black youth into sports at school; the presence of discrimination against non-white groups in some sports; the effects of socio-economic conditions on people's lifestyle choices; and, of course, the misguided belief among some white athletes that they will never succeed in certain sports because of the genes of their ancestors.

Yours sincerely,

Ben Carrington

School of Leisure and

Sport Studies

Leeds Metropolitan University


15 September

The writer is a sports sociologist.