WHEN ALL YOU CAN, AND SHOULD DO….. IS HOLD UP YOUR HEAD AND KEEP WALKING

by Ayo Tunde
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Permit me to digress a bit. This last year has been an eye opener for most of us. Anyone who says they have not been touched, one way or the other, by the effects of the word we had never heard of 15 months ago but which is now a global staple – coronavirus – must either have been in a long, deep sleep or is gifted immensely at being oblivious to their surroundings.

We have all been affected, and in more ways than one.

When you look at the imposition of restriction to movement, restriction to acts of cordiality to which we had been used prior to 2020, and the strong emergence of the word ‘lockdown’ in all of our vocabulary, we can’t not have been affected – we just need to be honest about it.

Now then – lockdown. The restrictions that were imposed by governments around the world, to keep us from mingling, from socialising, and even from working together. Shops closed. We can’t even go to stadia and watch football matches, and we have to make do with watching loads and loads of games on television.

Lockdown has brought what we now know as ‘the new normal’ to us all. Many employers who never could understand and agree to their staff working from home have now embraced it as it seems to be the only way to get any work done. And for many, there is no work to go to, and no way of working from home (please tell me – how does a hotel restaurant chef work from home when the hotel itself is shut?).

Then it becomes a big challenge on what to do with oneself in the day, when there is no work to go to, no places to socialise, no gym to go to and no shopping to do.

Now, a little bit about me, and I pray I don’t succeed in boring you with this part. I also hope that, bad as it may sound, you would actually believe me when I say I do care about the environment.

But truth be told, I love nature. I love greenery. I love the countryside. In fact I live in the countryside and this is out of choice.

The down side, though, is that I love to go into the countryside and see the greens and the nature from inside my car! Now even I know that it negates the principles of environmentalism. My bad. Lockdown has taught me a good lesson.

With nowhere to go, no football to go see, and limited international travels allowed, I also had to find a way of keeping myself active. I spend hours and hours at my desk, watching games and doing the business of scouting. So I always see the need to get out into the outdoors and see more of my surroundings.

So for the past year, I have made it a routine to go on long walks in my area; discovering more and more about routes and roads in an area I have lived in for over 18 years without knowing what was in my immediate surroundings because I always have whizzed past in my car!

So much for the walking.

Another subject loading…..

The talk of racism and race relations and inequality has come to light a lot more in the last year. We have had the BLM situation which started with the brutal killing of American George Floyd in May. That sparked a flurry of actions and initiatives from the corporate and public sector worlds, in a drive to embrace inclusivity to spread across all races. To the outside world and on paper, the world was reacting positively to the fight against inequality.

In my beloved sport – football – we are all talking about getting rid of racism in football. A lot of comments are being posted. A major television network in England has also launched a big partnership with the leading anti racism movement ‘Kick It Out’ with the “I’m in” slogan – a pivotal and bold step to say we really want to stamp out racism from the game of football.

All looks good and well presented. Soiled occasionally but painfully by the fact that some people have resorted to using social media to spew more and more racist abuse at football players and officials.

And that has been disgusting and hard to take in. It actually begs the question – where will this all end?

Now back to me, and my story of myself.

tunde-the-speaker-tunde-talks

I have been asked many times, in surveys, interviews and commentary; ‘Tunde, give us an example of any area that you had suffered racial abuse, discrimination or harassment in the past’. And I have always been honest in saying I have never had any direct experience of anyone directly and openly racist towards me.

Have I been lucky, ignorant or just in denial? I have no idea, but up until 2020-21, the year of COVID, the year of lockdown, I have never had it.

But one thing I always said every time I have to comment on racism in football, I always say something. I say that racism in football is an extension of what is happening in the society.

No child grows up in a house that has equal respect and regard for all races, then goes to a football ground and start raining racial abuse. On the flip side, no child grows up in a house where prejudice has been the norm, where the parents have expressed hatred for another race, and then such child grows up and goes to a stadium and sees black players as anything but how his/her parents have seen them.

I mentioned up there that I have taken to walking – long walks in my neighbourhood to beat boredom, get some fresh air and stay……maybe not fit but at least in shape.

It is very exhilarating, and relaxing. And I have found them really a good time to clear my head, open my heart out to myself and do some reflective thinking. And I have come to look forward to them.

However, my first set of experiences with racism came from the walks.

In one year – March 2020 to March 2021 – I have had no less than six racial slurs cast in my direction during my innocent, private walks. Some will just be a sudden blaring of their horn from their cars, some will be a big racist shout, and one or two others will just be a hand gesture.

Little or nothing when compared to what some others face, but still a stark realisation of the situation we are in, and how far we still have to go in the battle against racial prejudice.

It is a stark reality of the fact that it is not confined to football alone, and can not be kicked out of football if it still exists in the wider society. The people who shouted, honked and threw obscenities at me while I was having my private walks were not football fans. I was not on a football field. So it was pure prejudice and racism in the society.

But in every single one of the incidents; every single one with no exception, I did what I will always tell people to do when faced with it – pick yourself up, be proud of who you are, and keep walking. No reaction, no response and no point dignifying their ignorance with a response.

Stay proud and keep going. It is what I did, and what I will keep doing.

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