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I still suffer racial abuse in everyday life: Reid

Irish sprint ace reveals his experience as he helps launch anti-hate campaign

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National service: Leon Reid is proud to represent Ireland

National service: Leon Reid is proud to represent Ireland

�INPHO/Dan Sheridan

National service: Leon Reid is proud to represent Ireland

Leon Reid was seven when he first experienced racial abuse. The Belfast born sprinter and and Commonwealth Games bronze medallist remembers playing on a swing in the local park when another family arrived.

"The little girl wanted to play on the swing and the family were like, 'No, no, no, let's just go here'. I remember going to play on the slide or something and they came over and were looking at me, like, 'We don't really want to be around you' sort of thing."

Reid was puzzled as to how to react. "As a seven-year-old you want to play with everyone, to make friends, to be happy."

Nearly two decades later, not much has changed.

He cites examples of old ladies grabbing their purses and crossing the street if they see him coming towards them, despite the fact he's wearing an Irish tracksuit top.

And it's not just elderly women who react differently when they encounter him.

"Recently, I came out of the physio and it was quite dark, and a woman was across the road. I was running across to unlock my car because it was a busy road. She kind of picked up her phone and was like, 'Oh yeah, hey, hey, hey' and I was like, 'There's no one on the phone, I'm just trying to get to my car in the rain'.

"It's little things like that you might pick up on; most people might not see them but it happens every day.

"I try to separate life from sport so when people look at me and think I might attack or rob them because of the colour of my skin, I just think, 'You're highly uneducated - you're going to be clapping for me in the Olympics but you're not going to even realise it was me'."

When Reid switched his athletic allegiance from Great Britain to Ireland, after winning his Gold Coast Commonwealth Games bronze for Northern Ireland, he experienced online abuse. But it wasn't just anonymous trolls he had to deal with.

"I was racing indoors and there were people pretty much wanting to fight me in the call room, spitting in front of me and my kit was stolen after a race. I'm just there to represent myself and country. We're all on the same team here. It definitely made me stronger," he said.

He clarified his latter comments by explaining that the verbal abuse wasn't so much from team-mates and he's not personally sure who took his kit.

Once his connections with Ireland became known, attitudes softened.

"My mum was born in Belfast and my adopted mum is from Wexford. When people took the time to educate themselves and realise where I'm actually from, it did ease a lot," he said.

Reid was speaking at the launch of an anti-hate speech campaign being spearheaded by Team Ireland athletes in Dublin yesterday.

Collectively, the athletes have taken a stand against online hate speech with a campaign called 'Don't Scroll By'.

It calls on the public and sporting stakeholders nationwide to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to online abuse, discrimination and hate speech and to #DeleteBanReport any of this type of action they witness online.

Reid is currently in Madrid where he competes today in the World Athletics Indoor tour final. But, once again, he ended up having to explain himself.

"I met an American in the hotel who said to me, 'How can you be Irish, you are black?' So it is still going on. It's a bit crazy."

Reid, who will also represent Ireland at the European Indoor Championships in Poland next weekend, remains on course for his Olympic debut in Tokyo next summer in the 200m.

"I'm ranked 17th in the world, and it is the top-52 (who qualify). But me and my coaches aren't taking that for granted, we want to be top-15 and below. America is still open; people are going to be heading there, running times and all that."

Initially, he resented the decision to postpone the Olympics last summer, but he now realises how serious the pandemic has been. "It is affecting my close family and I have an aunt from Wexford in hospital right now."

His coach James Hillier now works in India, but he returned home as his wife was due a baby.

"I moved my whole life to Wales while he was there, and got three or four months of training done. He went back to India, but I am still in Wales working with others," he explained.

Belfast Telegraph


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