Football, racism and the NHS

Carter Singh is a local Royal College of General Practitioners Faculty Representative on the National Council, Board Member of the Governance and Nominations Committee, Vice-Chair on the Nottinghamshire Local Medical Committee, and a GP Partner at Willowbrook Medical Practice.

What do Marcus Rashford and I have in common besides both being tall, dark and handsome? Well; more than I first realised!

We are both self-made lads belonging to ethnic minority backgrounds who have shed blood, sweat and tears in working hard to represent our professions at the highest levels. We were both awarded the Royal Honour of an MBE on the same day as a recognition of the contribution we make in serving our society. We both love what we do and value the wider conversations about ethical and moral issues and we both champion equality, diversity and inclusion. We have both tasted the bitter taste of failure whilst striving to excel and serving those who depend on us and have received racist discrimination and abuse as a result.

So having seriously scraped the ‘similarity barrel’ it seems we may be more than just merely cosmically connected by our similarities but we also need to respect and celebrate our differences. This opens up a broader societal conversation.

The publicity and media coverage that the racial abuse our black England footballers received during and after the Euro 2020 final has further shone a spot light into the deep-seated divisions which still exist on the terraces and in our society. It has helped to open up the wider conversation about racism and inequality.

The racial abuse our black England footballers received … has further shone a spot light into the deep-seated divisions … in our society.

The pandemic has been a sombre backdrop to the rising global racial tensions which were catalysed by the tragic murder of George Floyd. Many of our English footballers have ‘taken the knee’ before matches as a sign of respect and solidarity to help raise awareness of the issues of diversity, equality and inclusion. Unfortunately, there is been an increasingly negative political narrative which has trivialised and belittled ‘taking the knee’ as ‘political gesturing’.

It is somewhat ironic therefore, that the abhorrent racist attitudes/abuse that were demonstrated during/after the Euro 2020 final reinforced the need to further invigorate the sentiment which underpins the gesture of ‘taking the knee’. Some politicians have refused to watch the England matches as a protest against ‘taking the knee’. Some have argued that politics and football should be kept separate. How is it possible to divorce the fundamental politics that govern how our society functions, from football when the racist abuse against the players politicises and plagues the sport and our society?

The sadness and disappointment of the football defeat has been overshadowed by the disgusting racist abuse that ensued.  This highlights that there is still much work to be done in improving cohesion and acceptance. Growing up it was engrained in me by my immigrant parents that I would always have to work harder to even stand a chance of achieving parity with the white majority.

Why must this notion of unequal disparity continue? Why must ethnic minority individuals have to prove their value or gain acceptance in society through victory and face ridicule and denigration if they make a mistake or fail to secure victory? True acceptance is never conditional and unity does not have strings attached. The narrow-minded bigoted minority conveniently adopted a colour-bind perspective when England were winning but wasted no time in showing their true colours when the tables were turned.

We are seeing sharp increases in the abuse, violence and discrimination of our NHS staff.

I draw parallels between the treatment our footballing hero’s received and the racist abuse our frontline NHS hero’s receive on a daily basis. Unfortunately, the abuse our NHS staff receive rarely commands such publicity and it’s impact is often gas-lighted. It takes great courage and bravery to take a penalty when the weight of the nation rests on your shoulders. So too does it take great commitment, responsibility and dedication to save lives at the coal-face of the NHS. Yet we are seeing sharp increases in the abuse, violence and discrimination of our NHS staff.

We are repeatedly seeing patients refusing to be seen or treated by ethnic minority staff. Complaints, fitness to practice hearings and differential treatment/attainment of ethnic minority staff remain significantly higher compared that their white counterparts. A recent landmark ruling also raises concerns that ethnic minority doctors can also face discrimination by the regulatory institutional processes themselves. Racial abuse and discrimination is now commonplace in the NHS at every level.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.

Is it any wonder that many doctors are practicing in fear of their registration with the added worry that the discrimination may be further be confounded by the injustices in the regulatory systems? We should be celebrating the achievements of our NHS and the diversity of those that tirelessly serve within it. Fairness must be the foundational value which underpins the NHS to support and empower doctors from all ethnicities and races to be able to serve their patients without any fear of vindictive injustice or recrimination based on their protected characteristics.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that”. Strong leadership, education and ally-ship is the light which we all need to shine to help challenge individual bias and institutional racism and to create a brighter future of equality, diversity and inclusion.


Featured photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

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