Play up the game
It was the idea of communities working together that swung the 2012 Olympics London's way. In the wake of 7/7, is this spirit of integration going to suffer or will sporting icons like Amir Khan show a way out?
Contributing to integration: Amir Khan after winning the silver at the Athens Olympics.
IN London, over the first seven days of July, there was a boom and bust sequence that would have given any swing in the long history of capitalism a run for its money.
On July 3, Henry Porter celebrated the city's eclectic cosmopolitanism in The Guardian. The Crime Scene Film and Fiction Festival had got under way; the Living Museum was being set up; the Live8 concert was round the corner, as was the NatWest Trophy final between England and Australia; and the Wimbledon fortnight was drawing to a close.
On July 6, the world celebrated London's multiculturalism when the city won the Olympic bid. From among all the events that unfolded in Singapore, London's marketing strategy to celebrate the Games as one belonging to the next generation and the symbolic parading of 30 school children drawn from the different communities of the East End were pinpointed as the reasons that would have persuaded the undecided IOC members to swing against the favourite, Paris.
On the morning of July 7, even as London 2012 Chairman Sebastian Coe and the victorious bid team was partying on the banks of the Singapore, came the terror attacks carried out by a handful of jehadi British Muslims which killed 50 people, including British Muslims.
Porter's creative hub was transformed into a ghost city. The dark underbelly of multiculturalism was exposed by further blasts on July 21 and by the murder of an innocent Brazilian shot at by the Met Police only because he was on the run and he had a bit more melanin than what is ideally required. The spirit of communities getting together and doing things to pull off a national project the Olympics collapsed. A recent Guardian/ICM poll revealed that two-thirds of the 1.8 million British Muslims are considering leaving the country for good after suffering some form of the increased Islamophobia after July 7.
Boxer Amir Khan, who won the silver medal in the lightweight category of the Athens Olympics last year, recently joined the ranks of the 1.1 million of the above-18-years British Muslim population.
Like most other young British Muslims, Khan has never lived in any country other than Britain. However, so many like him but devoid of his celebrity status are considering leaving the only place they know as their homeland.
Khan, who does not find a contradiction between his Islamic Pakistani origin and his northern English upbringing, found himself playing the role of a cultural representative soon after the Athens Olympics. He had lost the final to Cuban legend Mario Kindelan, whom he defeated earlier this year before his home crowd in Bolton and a television audience of 6.3 million cheering countrymen (most of them white) in his final match as an amateur.
Just after his Athens show, Khan and his scrap merchant father, Shajaad, were given a gold medal by the Bolton City Council for their effect on the town and the relations between its communities. Community leaders in Bolton believe that Amir Khan is a role model for British Muslims.
Khan's cousin, 22-year-old Lancashire pace bowler Sajid Mahmood, who has been with the England `A' set-up, said, "Amir is a huge motivation for me, as he is for most British Asian youngsters. He is as English as anyone else can be and he respects his culture and belief as well. His talent and achievement at his age are unbelievable."
In September last year, just a month after Khan appeared in Athens with a Union Jack around his shoulders, came part two of Khan's contribution to the integrationist imagination.
At the Labour Party conference in Brighton, Khan was unveiled as an official London 2012 bid ambassador. Explaining the selection of Khan, Coe said, "Of all the bidding cities, London and the U.K. are the most culturally diverse city and country and Amir is a great example of that."
Richard Williams recently wrote in The Guardian that in these difficult times Khan should not be seen as a representative of a community but as a professional boxer of excellence who represents the whole of England.
Williams certainly has a point after all, Wayne Rooney is not perceived as a representative of white Anglo-Saxon society but as a footballer of prodigious talent doing the whole of England proud.
However, these are times when Britain is clutching at straws to merely achieve a lowest common denominator state in race relations.
British sport and society need to celebrate Amir Khan. Just as British society needs to celebrate the race relations policy of British sporting institutions, which continue to embrace the post-McPherson Report (1999) philosophy of power differentials and economic inequality that exist between the dominant community and the ethnic minorities.
Academics Ben Carrington and Ian McDonald point out that the sports policy of New Labour, as interpreted by the quasi non-governmental body Sport England, is significant in that it gives an additional meaning to New Labour's political philosophy of "The Third Way".
In "The Third Way" (a term academic Anthony Giddens used for a reinvented model of social democracy) when one tackles social exclusion which is understood as the failure of marginalised communities to find access to the pervasive networks of opportunity the desired goal of social inclusion can be achieved.
However, Sport England gives an added dimension to social inclusion it is seen as the framework that all sports organisations are required to adopt to ensure that there are no barriers to prevent the increased participation of disabled people, women and ethnic minorities in sport. This, thus, recognises that the powerful institution, and not the powerless individuals belonging to ethnic minorities, is the agent that creates impediments towards achieving social inclusion.
It would be crucial for Sport England to not jettison such a progressive contribution to the sphere of race relations in the years leading up to the Olympics. Meanwhile, let the whole world celebrate Amir Khan who is the first British Muslim sporting hero since former cricket captain Nasser Hussain was perceived by many ordinary Asians as too far removed from their world along with England as an integrationist symbol without losing sight of the faultlines of such a reaction.
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