The myth of Black dominance in sports

One of the good old Trinidad myths that I brought unexamined with me to Canada was the notion that the Africans -the black people- were dominant in sports. Dominant in Trinidad and Tobago and the wider world as well, let me add.

The myth of Black dominance in sports
Photo : Ramdath Jagessar

One of the good old Trinidad myths that I brought unexamined with me to Canada was the notion that the Africans -the black people- were dominant in sports. Dominant in Trinidad and Tobago and the wider world as well, let me add.

Let me say at the start that the meaning of myth I am using in this column is: a widely held but false belief or idea, synonyms being misconception, fallacy, mistaken belief, false notion, misbelief, old wives' tale, fairy story, fairy tale, fiction, fantasy, delusion, figment of the imagination; invention, fabrication, falsehood, untruth, lie, trumped-up story, fake news, alternative fact; informal story, tall story, tall tale, fib, cock and bull story.


There didn’t seem to be any point in fact checking black domination in sport in Trinidad. It seemed so obviously true.  


A few years ago, after 20 years in Canada, I was forced to take a hard look at the alleged African domination of sports. A black columnist in the Toronto black newspaper Pride wrote a gloating article asking rhetorically if anyone could tell him why Africans were so dominant in sports. He certainly didn’t expect the answer I gave him.


The columnist’s arrogance annoyed me, and I slipped into my investigative reporter mode of my old days as a reporter in Trinidad. The results were a shock for him and for me.


My post on Pride’s website let the black columnist know that black people were emphatically NOT dominant in sports world wide and not in Canada either. I had looked at the top 100 sports by popularity in terms of fans and also by participation by sports people. Black people were dominant in no more than three of them, and they were not the biggest sports in popularity and participation either. Shock and surprise, the white race were the dominant sportsmen and women in the vast majority of sports. Black domination was a myth, a fantasy.


The top sports with the biggest global following were soccer, cricket, field hockey, tennis, volleyball, table tennis, basketball, baseball, rugby and golf.  Black people were dominant in none of these.


But what about basketball? Surely black people dominated that! Look at the NBA in America and the top team in world basketball. I found that sure the blacks dominated basketball in the USA and that country regularly won top rank in world basketball.  Next down the list of top ranked basketball teams were Spain, France, Serbia, Argentina, Lithuania Slovenia, Greece, Croatia, Russia, Australia, Brazil, Italy, Mexico, Latvia, Puerto Rico, Turkey, Dominican Republic, Ukraine and Venezuela.  Not a lot of countries with loads of black people, and as far as I knew, not dominated by blacks in their teams either.


To be sure, black people dominated track and field and it could be argued they dominated the heavier weights in boxing. They made a good showing in American style football. And that was it, at best possible dominance for blacks in three out of one hundred.

There were areas like swimming, all winter sports, badminton, snooker and billiards, golf, gymnastics, sailing, speed boating, car  racing, cycling, diving, martial arts like karate and judo, rowing, shooting, water polo, netball, bodybuilding, chess, ice hockey and plenty more where black people were absent altogether or only represented by the few.

All of this I pointed out to the Pride columnist in great detail. He was furious. He had bought the myth big time. In his reply to my comment he raved about how I had mentioned insignificant sports like racquet ball and that made my entire post invalid and of no significance at all.

He never even attempted to tackle my main point that blacks were not dominant in sports in the world. He never mentioned this topic again and neither did anybody else at Pride or any other media as far as I know. Myth busting is my game but it doesn’t get you appreciation from myth eaters.

Which brings me back to Trinidad of my time there 30 years ago and today, and the question of whether black people were or are dominant in sports.  In the eighties cricket and soccer were the big sports overall in TT, and while blacks were dominant in soccer the same can’t be said for cricket where the other large population group Indians more than held their own.

Blacks were dominant in track and field, boxing, basketball, bodybuilding, weightlifting and netball. They were not so in swimming, lawn and table tennis, badminton, golf, billiards and snooker, chess, volleyball, gymnastics, sailing, speed boating, car racing, cycling, field hockey, martial arts, rugby, shooting, water polo, gymnastics, and a host of lesser sports. That’s six dominant for blacks and 22 not dominant by my count, far from black domination in sports overall.

Blacks were present in all these sports, as they should be for being one of the larger population groups.  But not dominant as such.  What was surprising at the time was the enormous presence and, in some cases, actual domination of several sports by the tiny French Creole “white” group. Swimming, lawn tennis, golf, gymnastics, sailing, boating and rugby come to mind. Economics and cultural history may well account for this lowly performance by blacks versus the whites and the rest in these sports, but this column is not about that but about the myth of black domination of sports in general.

Is the situation today 2019 any different than it was thirty years ago? Some areas like basketball and martial arts have become more popular and others like volleyball may have declined. But I suspect the broad picture is basically the same. Correct me if you have more current expertise on TT sports. Black domination of sports in TT is still the myth it was always, ie false belief, delusion, fantasy and bunkum. Pull the lavatory chain on it.

I’ve mentioned Indians in Trinidad only once, for the simple reason this column is not about them but about the myth of black domination in sports. I will come to the Indians another tie, and better believe they have plenty myths to explode.