Sun | Mar 18, 2018

Tony Becca | Ride on, black stars

Published:Sunday | July 17, 2016 | 12:00 AM
England's Daniel Sturridge (front)
LeBron James

When I was a little boy and looked around for heroes, I saw only a few worthy of emulation.

Why? As a half-Indian youngster - my mother was black and my father was Indian - I was looking for black heroes, or someone near to that.

I knew of only George Headley, Jesse Owens, and Joe Louis, Herb McKenley, Arthur Wint, and George Rhoden - one a cricketer, one an athlete, one a boxer, and the other three were athletes.

Before them, I had heard of Jack Johnson, a boxer, and McDonald Bailey, a Trinidadian-British athlete, and after them, I knew of Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes, Clyde Walcott, Sonny Ramadhin and Alfred Valentine, all West Indies cricketers.

Later on, when I became a man, the names of people like Learie Constantine, a cricketer, Jersey Joe Walcott, Floyd Patterson, Muhammad Ali, and Joe Frazer, of boxing fame, and Wilt Chamberlin, Bill Russell, and Kareem Abdul Jabar, from the basketball court, were the familiar names.

The names ringing in my ears, from morning 'til night were those of white men like Don Bradman and Jim Laker, Rocky Marciano, Sterling Moss and Mario Andretti, Jack Niklaus and Arnold Palmer, Emil Zatopek and LasseViren, Rod Laver, Puskas, Yashin, Gordon Banks, and Georgie Best, Billie Jean King, Margaret Court (Smith), and Lindy Remigino, the "winner" over McKenley by photo finish in the 100 metres of 1952, and players of that ilk.

Since then, however, men like Garry Sobers and Rohan Kanhai, cricketers; Pele and Eusebio, footballers; Tommie Smith, John Carlos and company of the famous protest in the 1968 Mexico Olympics; Earvin 'Magic' Johnson, Michael Jordan, and Kobe Bryant, basketballers; were names which were etched in my memory, and are still there.

And there were others, many others, and in many other sports.


Non-white countries


There were people in the "popular" sports, people like the West Indian, Indian, and Pakistani cricketers - such as Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar, Hanif Mohammad and Shaoib Akhtar, Clive Lloyd and Lance Gibbs, and people from football, from Africa mostly.

There were also people from track and field; people like Jim Hines, Karl Lewis and Evelyn Ashford, Tessa Sanderson, Daley Thompson, Linford Christie, Sonia Lannaman, and Cathy Freeman.

Even in table tennis, where the whites ruled, where men like Victor Barna, Richard Bergman, and Stellan Bengtsson ruled the roost, the blacks were represented by the likes of Desmond Douglas and Orville Haslam, Jamaicans representing England, and by the non-white countries of Japan and China, Ogimura and Tanaka, Chuang Tse-Tung, His En-Ting, Hu HuLan, people who ruled the world and are still ruling the world.

In sports not usually linked to black people, or to non-whites, men and women, the likes of Yvonne Goolagong, Arthur Ashe, Althea Gibson, and Serena and Venus Williams - tennis; Jackie Robinson, Ernie Banks, and Reggie Jackson - baseball; Chi Chi Rodriquez and Tiger Woods - golf; and Lewis Hamilton, Formula One racing; have made or are making, a name for themselves.

The coming of teams like the Brazilian football team of 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002, the West Indies cricket teams of the periods highlighted in 1950, 1965, and in the 1980s, the ascendancy of the black man in American sports - baseball, basketball, and football - and the advent of India and Pakistan in cricket in the 1940s and the 1950s have helped immensely.

The rapid development of Africa in football and long-distance running provided many names for me to choose from as the deeds of black sportsmen and women threatened to rid the world, or, at least, to level the playfield.

Suddenly, it is as if sports is made for black people, especially for black people to dominate as players like Jerry Rice, Deon Sanders, Michael Irving, and Emmitt Smith in American football, like Dwight Gooden, Daryl Strawberry, and Reggie Jackson in baseball have done, and like what the likes of Lebron James, Steph Curry, and Kyrie Irving of basketball fame are now doing.

Cricket, the sport of the West India people, is, or was, dominated by blacks, or by the non-whites.


World's best


Men like Headley, Sobers, Richards, Brian Lara, and Tendulkar rule the roost in batting, Muttiah Muralitheran, Anil Kumble, Courtney Walsh, Wasim Akram, Malcolm Marshall lead the bowlers, Moin Khan and Jeffrey Dujon, the wicketkeepers, and, in football, the most popular sport on earth, Pele has been rated the best with men like Eusebio and Jairzinho behind him, followed by George Weah, and other African 'ballers like Roger Milla, Asamoah Gyan, Samuel Eto'o, John Obi Mikel, Jay-Jay Okocha, Didier Drogba, and Yaya Toure.

In track and field, in the sprints, apart from producing two of the world's best of all-time in Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, there are many Olympic and World champions, and in the persons of Owens, Lewis, and Donovan Bailey, Wilma Rudolph, Florence Joyner Griffiths, Gail Devers, Merlene Ottey and Veronica Campbell-Brown, to name a few.

And Africa has produced a whole lot of distance runners, including Haile Gebrelassie, Mo Farah, Kenenisa Bekele, and Tirunish Dibaba.

I thought of the influx of blacks or non-whites in sports while watching the Euros recently and noticed the number of black football players in the tournament, especially in a team like England - Danny Rose, Kyle Walker, Dele Ali, Chris Smalling, Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge, Nathan Clyne, Marcus Rashford, and Ryan Bertrand.

Then there is France with Patrice Evra, Steve Mandonda, Eiroguiru Mangola, Bakary Sagna, Paul Pogba, Samuel Umtiti, Kingsley Coman, N'Golo Knate and Anthony Martial; Belgium with Moussa Dembele, Romalu Lukaku, Vincent Kompany, Axel Witsel, Christian Benteke, Dick Origi and Romelu Lukaku; and Portugal with a few of their own, including Nani.


Black sportsman


With England, France, and Belgium boasting the lion's share of blacks and coloureds, other countries like Germany has Jerome Boateng, Switzerland has Brul Embulo, Gelson Fernandes, and Johan Djourou; and Italy, which once had the enigmatic Mario Balotteli, this time also had one.

It seems today that the order of the day is to have at least one black sportsman on your side. Indeed, the more, the better - as France, with the likes of Thierry Henry, Lillian Thuram, Christian Karembeu, Marcel Desailly, Patrick Vieira, and David Trezeguet in 1998, and some 11 in the present squad, proved at the World Cup in 1998 and again, almost at the Euros in 2016.

It is also seen, where once it never was, that whereas players like Viv Anderson, Laurie Cunningham, and Garth Crooks had a hard time getting into the England team, that Paul Ince captained both England and Manchester United and was the manager of Blackburn Rovers recently, and that Vincent Kompany is the captain of Belgium and Manchester City.

It is also good to notice that Wes Morgan is the captain of Leicester City, the champions of England, that it was Eder and not Cristiano Ronaldo who sealed the Euros for Portugal, and it is left to be see what will happen to the game, to sports, when blacks turn up as captains elsewhere, and winners,as managers and coaches of teams like their own, like teams in some African countries and others countries like Haiti and Jamaica.

At the 2016 Euros, it was, unexpectedly, Wales, Iceland, and the blacks who crashed the party, and there is more, much more, to come.