Majority of athletes in Manitoba study say they've experienced racism, from slurs to threats

A new report released Wednesday sheds light on the prevalence of racism in sport in Winnipeg and the devastating impact it has on athletes. 

Anti-Racism in Sport Campaign report found some athletes have stopped playing because of racism

The research involved 12 online focus groups involving 39 participants who take part in sport in Winnipeg as athletes, coaches, officials and/or service providers, who shared their lived experiences with racism. (dotshock/Shutterstock)

A new report sheds light on the prevalence of racism in sport in Winnipeg — and the devastating impact it has on athletes.

The study found a majority of the participants said they had experienced racism in sports, and some said it's prompted athletes to give up playing altogether.

The study, which focused on developing tools to identify and disrupt racism in sport in Manitoba, was conducted for use by the Anti-Racism in Sport Campaign — a campaign organized by Immigration Partnership Winnipeg and involving more than two dozen partner organizations, agencies and educational institutions in the city.

Part of the research involved 12 online focus groups, with youth and adult athletes who identified as Indigenous, Black or people of colour, as well as other people involved in sports, such as referees and sport association officials. 

In total, 27 of the 39 people who participated — nearly 70 per cent — said they had experienced some form of racism in sport, according to the report, which was released Wednesday.

Participants (referred to using pseudonyms) are quoted in the report talking about those experiences, ranging from being subject to racial slurs to microaggressions such as officials mispronouncing or shortening their names. 

Some participants said use of the N-word to refer to children was a frequent occurrence in sport spaces they utilized, the report says. 

In one of the most disturbing instances captured by the report, one participant said someone threatened to stab her if she attended at a sporting event in Winnipeg. The person also commented that they wished the participant was a slave, the report says.

"This is not something, an experience that happened five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10 years ago — this is a recent example that was shared by a participant," said Craig Brown, one of the lead researchers for the project. 

Impact on lives outside sport

Participants spoke about the enormous toll this took on them. Some said they didn't feel safe participating in certain sports that are dominated by white players because of fear of being discriminated against. 

Others said it had forced them to drop out of their sports entirely. In one story shared in the report, a participant (referred to as "Alan") said racism, and the lack of action taken to stop it, caused most of his teammates to leave the roster. 

Because sport was the main thing motivating them to stay in school, they ended up dropping out of that too. 

"They got into gangs, into drugs. I have had to bury two of them. I have personally called the police on many of them because that's the only help I can give them now," Alan said. 

"This is the cost and it's a real cost."

Many of the participants the researchers spoke with also said they didn't feel like sports associations or other organizations did enough to address racism in sport or respond effectively when racism was reported, Brown said. 

Brown said they found many people said the systems created to address racism were weighted in favour of the perpetrator, so in many cases nothing is done even if acts of racism are reported. 

"For many persons this promotes the notion that the system actually does nothing to fight against racism or to stop racism, so it promotes a sense of silence," he said.

Brown was struck by the fact participants said they felt the situation was not getting any better — even those who had been in sport for decades. 

"It was just heartbreaking to hear those stories and that there was a genuine hope that things would get better, but the more and more that people have been interacting with the system, the more things have predominantly stayed the same," he said.

In addition to Brown, research was conducted by Nikol Veisman, Dalima Chhibber, Leisha Strachan, Sarah Teetzel and Lori Wilkinson.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.