Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 2 October 2014

Why has equality race not got off the starting blocks?

If the Olympics teaches us anything it is that we must strive for an inclusive society where racism is not tolerated, says Andrew Muir

The enormous interest in the London Olympics has not surprised anybody. With so many athletes competing in one place, I wonder how anybody could fail to be inspired by one of the world's greatest events.

As a 10k road runner and member of North Down Athletics Club, I was waiting in anticipation to see Usain Bolt, retain his gold medal in the men's 100m. Even those who had not watched much of the Olympics, tuned in to see him set a new Olympic record and once again be declared one of the greatest runners in history.

So many people have been mesmerised by his charisma as well as his gold medals and world records, that he has become one of the most famous athletes in the world.

The achievements of Bolt have reminded many people of Jesse Owens who won four golds for the USA at the Berlin Olympics in 1936, including the 100m.

He is remembered via The Jesse Owens Award, the highest honour awarded each year to the USA's best track and field athlete.

Jesse's achievements were both brilliant and poignant. Winning four gold Olympic medals wasn't unfortunately fully recognised by all. Adolf Hitler was disappointed that the Ayran race had not succeeded, viewed his race as inferior and decreed that black people should be excluded from future Olympic games.

Jesse's superior achievements were also demeaned closer to home when President Franklin D Roosevelt failed to send him a congratulatory message.

After returning to New York Jesse was also subjected to racial discrimination when forced to travel by the freight elevator to his home coming reception at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The passenger lift was reserved for whites only.

So much has changed since 1936. But yet more remains to be achieved. No longer should it be seen as acceptable for some people to criticise Usain for dating Lubica Slovak, a white woman from Slovakia.

Neither should it be right that according to a Life and Times Survey, 20% of people in Northern Ireland would object to a person from an ethnic minority background becoming a relative.

Nor is it right that a recent Equality Awareness survey found that 13% of people here have a negative opinion towards black and minority ethnic groups.

Much more work could be undertaken to eradicate any form of racism in Northern Ireland, but the track record of DUP and Sinn Fein isn't great. We still await the long overdue Race Relations Strategy whilst the need for a Single Equality Act seems to have been conveniently forgotten. And their community relations strategy, the Cohesion, Sharing and Integration document was widely panned.

Leadership has also been lacking with Finance Minister Sammy Wilson once remarking that he wanted only Northern Irish people to get Northern Irish jobs and Euro MEP Martina Anderson previously stating that Catholic migrant workers are causing workforce statistics concerning the Protestant/Catholic balance to be "artificially inflated".

As a firm and passionate supporter of a shared future, I want to see a meaningful Shared Future strategy that has challenging targets to cut out all form of racism.

It's time the DUP and Sinn Fein stopped dragging their feet and reworked the Cohesion, Sharing and Integration document into something which delivers real change rather than warm words or meaningless gestures.

We need to see action on this and Alliance will continue to lead the debate concerning how we achieve a truly shared society devoid of all forms of discrimination.

I would urge everybody to enjoy the Olympics and Paralympics, stand up and speak out for sporting achievements and against intolerance so we can all achieve the Olympics motto of Citius, Altius, Fortius - Faster, Higher, Stronger.

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