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Black Lives Matter: Will movement really change sport?

Sky Sports News reporter Roger Clarke analyses whether the Black Lives Matter movement will change sport for good in the fight against racism

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We strive to do more, to say more. We are against racism and racial injustice in all forms. #BlackLivesMatter

"All we want is for black lives to matter now. It's as simple as that".

It's not much to ask, you would think.

And yet, here we are, in 2020, with West Indies cricket legend Michael Holding making an impassioned plea for his life to be considered of equal value to others in society.

The brilliantly put together video of an emotional Holding and England's first black female international cricketer Ebony Rainford-Brent telling of their experiences of racism ran ahead of England's first Test against the West Indies, and has been viewed millions of times on social media.

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Former West Indies cricketer Michael Holding broke down in tears on camera while discussing the racism his parents faced in the past

But among the many words of praise, commending Holding and Rainford-Brent for their honesty and bravery, can be found the reason why even now such a simple request still needs to be made.

"It's on Sky Sports Cricket. I turned it on to watch the cricket, not to see political preaching. WLM (White Lives Matter) too."

"Is this a sports channel or political channel????"

Two tweets that summed up why, somehow, we still need to explain why we kneel. Why we protest. Why we have to keep repeating "Black Lives Matter".

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Ebony Rainford-Brent and Michael Holding opened up on their experiences of racism in this hard-hitting video which has been viewed by millions of people across the world

When images of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis went viral in May, it sparked protests around the globe. He certainly wasn't the first unarmed black man to die at the hands of American police, but for whatever reason, this one was different.

As well as the demonstrations it led to a debate on race, not just regarding instances of police brutality, but also the systems and structures that allow racial inequality in society as a whole. And in sport too.

From Lewis Hamilton's raised fist on the podium at the Styrian Grand Prix, to Premier League teams taking a knee in a show of unity, the world of sport has been at the forefront of the Black Lives Matter movement and conjured some of its most enduring images.

And while thousands took to the streets to demonstrate and social media responded with hashtags and blackouts, it has been sport that has continued to lead the way.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Arsenal takes a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement prior to the Premier League match between Manchester City and Arsenal FC at Etihad Stadium on June 17, 2020 in Manchester, United Kingdom.

So what happens next? When, as Sky Sports Scholar Imani-Lara Lansiquot says "the hashtags and blackouts have fizzled out"? After all, this isn't the first time sport and race have collided to make headlines.

They did when Raheem Sterling spoke out about media representations of black footballers in 2018. And again in October of last year when England players were subjected to monkey chants in Bulgaria.

Raheem Sterling called for stadium bans as punishment for racist abuse from fans

Each time the news cycle moves on and the issue of race is parked until the next thrown banana or ill-advised tweet. Maybe it will be different this time?

Premier League title winner Trent Alexander-Arnold is certainly confident it will be.

"This is the moment we see real change and we see permanent change," the Liverpool and England full-back said last month.

That's the hope anyway and the early signs, at least, are positive. Think back to 2016 and San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick taking a knee as the national anthem was played in protest at police brutality and racial injustice.

It led to a public rebuke from the president, and as others knelt in support of Kaepernick, the NFL eventually issued an order that players must either stand for the anthem or remain in the locker room.

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NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the league was wrong for not listening to players fighting for racial equality

Kaepernick ultimately paid for his protests with his career, with no franchise willing to sign him up.

Fast forward to June this year and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell saying "we were wrong". Now the message appears to be "We are listening, I am listening", and it's been echoed in other sports too, not just in America, but across the globe.

The return of MLS saw a powerful, united demonstration... a mix of players taking the knee and raising the gloved fist in a throwback to Tommie Smith and John Carlos and their iconic protest at the 1968 Olympics.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in a civil rights gesture at the 1968 Olympics

Both the England and West Indies cricket teams knelt in solidarity ahead of the first Test. In the Premier League, not only do the players kneel, they do so with the public backing of their teams and their governing body, with Black Lives Matter on their shirts.

And more important than the gestures, welcome as they are, a whole host of voices have felt empowered to speak out and express themselves, not just as black sportsmen and women, but more simply as black people.

England rugby player Maro Itoje, after attending a Black Lives Matter protest, spoke of his desire "to educate people, to change perceptions" and called on politicians not to ignore the calls for change.

Lewis Hamilton, one of the most prominent voices, vowed to continue to use his platform to raise awareness and educate - "For me this is going to be a lifelong thing".

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JULY 05: during the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria at Red Bull Ring on July 05, 2020 in Spielberg, Austria. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Equally importantly, white people began to ponder their roles.

"I'm trying my best to learn and understand about the Black Lives Matter movement and systemic racism, and sport is not free from that," said Andy Murray after he and fellow tennis players took a knee ahead of the Battle of the Brits at Roehampton.

Ben Stokes, captaining England against the West Indies, also acknowledged he has a part to play.

"We have a great chance to send a powerful message and educate people more on the matter," he said.

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Burnley captain Ben Mee said he and the players were embarrassed after a banner displaying the words 'White Lives Matter Burnley' was flown over the Etihad Stadium

But there is still pushback. "White Lives Matter" read a banner trailing from a plane flying over the Etihad Stadium as Manchester City kicked off against Burnley, whose captain Ben Mee was swift in his condemnation.

"These people need to come into the 21st century and educate themselves" he said.

While in South Africa, a call for cricket to unite behind Black Lives Matter by Lungi Ngidi was met with hostility in some quarters.

"What nonsense is this? He must take his own stand if he wishes," said former player Pat Symcox, who also said "All Lives Matter".

No one disputes that all lives matter. The point is that all lives can't matter until black lives matter.

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Michael Holding says education is key to eradicating the problem of racism and ensuring that this becomes a moment of genuine change in society

Education, it seems, has become the watchword here. Teaching people that racism isn't just the easily identifiable abuse, the monkey chants, or cruel words on social media. It can be systemic, it can be unwitting, unconscious and so entwined with social structures that without it being pointed out, those who don't come up against it will never know it's there.

The job now is to shine a light on it wherever it exists.

I started off by quoting Michael Holding's simple plea....I'll finish with him too, summing up that this is not a problem that will be solved by black people or white people alone.

"Until we educate the entire human race, this thing will not stop."

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