Grant Chapman: Week of sporting revolution demonstrates power of athletes, fans

OPINION: To make an omelette, they say, you must break some eggs.

Over the space of just a few days, we've seen revolution on two very different fronts - both with deep implications on the sporting landscape.

When George Floyd was effectively choked to death by Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin last May, athletes around the world joined the US civil rights movement to support the 'Black Lives Matter' campaign.

Racism that has scarred American history has also provided an undercurrent to sporting history, occasionally rearing its ugly head.

Hitler's snub of Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the Black Power salute at Mexico City 1968, and the All Blacks' ongoing relationship with apartheid South Africa and subsequent African boycott of Montreal 1976 have all been flashpoints for a serious global issue.

Racial abuse in professional football has become almost a weekly occurrence, with administrators struggling to stamp out red-neck bigotry, both outside and inside the lines.

But Floyd's death provided a tragic touchpoint for sportsmen and women of all colours to unite in support of basic human rights. Athletes became activists, forcing their employers to join the lobby, if they weren't already on board.

Ironically, a protest that began with NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the US national anthem - and losing his career as a result - found full voice four years later, when Chauvin took a knee on Floyd's neck and killed him in full view of the world.

Kneeling became a way for athletes to show their disgust, even as some fans complained that their regular dose of escapism was being interrupted by the real world. Such a damn shame.

Chauvin's guilty verdict represents a small victory along the path towards true equal rights - a goal that may, sadly, still prove out of reach in our lifetime.        

The second uprising threatened to overturn the pro football landscape as we know it, but was very quickly quelled by a counterstrike from players and fans.

When 12 of the richest clubs in Europe - affectionately known as 'The Dirty Dozen' - threatened to break away and form their own exclusive 'Super League' - an ambitious title that surely doomed it from the outset - their alliance lasted less than 24 hours, as the English got cold feet and folded with a whimper.

At a time when New Zealand, as a nation, is surely slipping its colonial shackles, Kiwis' continued obsession with English soccer teams is absolutely mystifying at times.

Community leaders gather at George Floyd Square for the Derek Chauvin verdict
Community leaders gather at George Floyd Square for the Derek Chauvin verdict. Photo credit: Getty

But that passion makes football the world's No.1 game and the fans ultimately had their way, threatening to abandon generations of backing for the would-be rebels. When players and coaches also turned on their own clubs, who obviously hadn't consulted or at least warned them first, that was the final straw.

While the revolution was unsuccessful in this case, the repercussions may prove ongoing. 

Even as the enemy stormed the gates, UEFA approved an expansion of its premier club competition - the Champions League - from 32 to 36 teams, guaranteeing more top-class games against more opponents.

But maybe Leeds United striker Patrick Bamford summed the week up imperfectly, after his side drew 1-1 with Liverpool, a result that would have pleased even Anfield faithful just this once.

"It's amazing the amount of uproar that comes into the game, when somebody's pockets are being hurt," he opined.

"It's a shame it's not like that when all the things that go wrong with things at the minute, racism and stuff like that."


Grant Chapman is a Newshub online sports producer.