|Former South Korea international and Manchester United legend Park Ji-sung kicks the ball acrobatically in the YouTube channel Shoot for Love's promotional video clip for antiracism movement. / Courtesy of Shoot for Love|
By Jhoo Dong-chan
It has been more than 70 years since Jackie Robinson broke the baseball color bar when he started playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers as an infielder in 1947.
The first black American Major League Baseball (MLB) player's breaking of racial barriers and his professional success not only symbolized broader changes in the big league system where it used to relegate black players to the Negro leagues but also demonstrated the fight for equality was more than simply a political matter.
Many black players have since landed in the big league following the path of Robinson, but the fight is still ongoing around the world.
In July, Arsenal Fan TV pundit Claude Callegari of the English Premier League said "DVD's coming off" live on air when South Korean forward Son Heung-min was subbed off towards the end of Tottenham's 2-1 victory against Arsenal. The reference to selling DVDs is known to be a racist term that has been directed at Asian footballers in the past.
This wasn't the first time Son was singled out for his ethnicity.
In November, 2017, a West Ham supporter asked Son if he can get him a copy of the new "Planet of the Apes" film when the South Korean international wound down his car window to pose for a picture with another fan. "DVDs. You do DVDs. Good copies," the man added, before identifying himself as a West Ham fan.
Racism also prevails in Asia.
When the J1 League's Urawa Reds signed ethnic Korean Japanese player Lee Tadanari in 2014, Urawa supporters put a banner in front of their home stadium saying "Japanese only."
The governing body of the J1 League immediately ordered Urawa to play one home match behind closed doors as a disciplinary measure.
Korea is no safe haven to such racism.
U.S.-born South Korean basketball player Ra Gun-ah, or Ricardo Ratliffe, wrote earlier this year in an Instagram post that he receives racist comments on a daily basis.
"I get these type of messages all the time from Korea people," the post reads. "I usually block them but this type of stuff I go through on a daily basis out here."
Born in 1989 in Hampton, Virginia, Ra obtained Korean citizenship in January 2018. He has played for the South Korean national basketball team since July 2018. Ra also led the national team at the 2019 FIBA World Cup last year, with 23 points and 12.8 rebounds per game in five matches.
Trolls reportedly also attacked Ra's wife and children online too. Ra's basketball team Jeonju KCC Egis said it will fully support Ra if he wants to take legal action against them, but Ra refused his team's offer.
"Jeonju KCC Egis was definitely going to help him if Ra wanted to take action, but he didn't want it. He demonstrated a classic example of 'When they go low, we go high.' He did go high," a Jeonju KCC Egis official said.
"They do throw foreign players these racial slurs not only during games but also online. And attacking the players' families? Zero tolerance."
Combating racism and racial discrimination
Sports has been on the vanguard of combating racism for decades. Global football communities established the "Let's kick racism out of Football" campaign in 1993. In 1997, they also formed an organization with the same name to encourage schools and communities to challenge discrimination, encourage inclusivity practices and work for positive changes.
Their movement returned to global headlines and gained further international attention once again during the global Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
Professional athletes not only in the United States but also across the world have participated in the movement by kneeling before their game starts to show their rejection of inequality.
The movement is also ongoing in Korea.
Former Manchester United midfielder Park Ji-sung posted a promotional video on the YouTube channel "Shoot for Love" earlier last month to support their "We can kick racism" campaign. The one-minute video introduces various racial slurs, and ends with Park's bicycle kick.
Former South Korean internationals Lee Young-pyo and Cho Won-hee also participated in the campaign along with Park. They also nominated Son and his Manchester United teammate Patrice Evra to participate in the campaign.
Son and Evra posted their versions on social media a week later.
"Every human being is precious," Son wrote in an Instagram post.
"No one should discriminate against anyone for any reason. We oppose racism and hope for a world where we all respect each other."
Despite a series of high-profile figures' campaigns, players said it's highly unlikely to weed out racism in sports anytime soon.
"(They) just can't understand it," Germany's Turkgucu Munchen defender Park Yi-young said. The team is in the country's third-tier 3. Liga.
"(They) don't know the feeling of being racially insulted. The vast majority of you will not have experienced racism in your life and can't estimate the bad impact on those affected. I just hope that through my voice the problem of racism can get a little better and that maybe you can also think about it some more."
The 26-year-old said he was also subjected to racial insults during his recent match against SV Waldhof Mannheim 07, Oct. 4. Turkgucu Munchen immediately displayed its support for Park, and Germany's football governing body Deutscher Fussball-Bund has started looking into the case.
|Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain takes the knee beside the trophy prior the the Hungarian Formula One Grand Prix race at the Hungaroring racetrack in Mogyorod, Hungary, Sunday, July 19. / AP-Yonhap|
Black Lives Matter
On May 25, 46-year-old George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota, while being arrested for allegedly using a counterfeit bill. During the arrest, white policeman Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd's neck for several minutes until he died of cardiopulmonary arrest.
Several videos made by witnesses and security cameras went public, and triggered worldwide protests against police brutality and fights against inequality.
Echoing the ongoing protest in the U.S., NBA players took the lead in supporting their fight against racism. When the season started in July, the NBA and National Basketball Players Association agreed to resume the season with a commitment to use their platform to address social justice issues.
Mercedes-AMG Petronas' F1 driver Louis Hamilton also publicly condemned the police brutality and announced his full support in the protest against racism. The only black driver in the sport was listed as one of the 100 most influential people globally in Time magazine.
Footballers across the world also expressed their support for the protest by kneeling for several seconds just before kickoff.
Jeonbuk Hyundai striker and former South Korean international Lee Dong-gook also displayed his support by kneeling after scoring the team's third goal during the K League 1 match against FC Seoul, June 6.
Korea's top-tier league has strongly prohibited players from addressing political issues on the pitch, but the governing body allowed Lee's celebration, claiming the fight against racism "accords closely with the universal value of human rights."