World Gymnaestrada confronts racism
LAUSANNE, July 15, 2011 - The World Gymnaestrada is not only about gymnastic performances. Organisers have been offering a series of conferences to gymnasts and fans on a variety of topics, given by local personalities but not necessarily on sports.
This Thursday, Jean-Philippe Rapp, President of the International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism (LICRA) for Switzerland, addressed the issue of racism and its impact on athletic competitions. Why such a topic during the World Gymnaestrada, an event that unites gymnasts of all nations? "People often believe that racism is obsolete, or that it perdures only in a minority of individuals. But this belief is completely false," explained the former journalist with Suisse-Romande Television. "Racism, and more particularly discrimination, is on the rise. It is most certainly not a problem at World Gymnaestrada, but what better place to prove that peace among peoples and their athletes is possible in the world of sport."
According to Mr Rapp, with a competitive spirit missing from World Gymnaestrada the primary contributor to racism in sport is also absent. "Children are equal when they are brought into this world, and their differences are inexistent out on the playground. The pressure that comes with competition is what fosters discrimination." The problem lies mainly with over-ambitious coaches or parents who push their kids to win at any cost. The question then begs whether racism increases as competition becomes more intense. "I fear more for smaller clubs that lack the resources to confront the issue of racism," responded Rapp. "In some cases, the presence of poorly trained referees in positions of responsibility can play a significant role. Because of their extensive visibility, high-calibre competitions provide a backdrop where racial gestures are easily broadcasted worldwide. There are less of them, but their influence is much greater."
This is the first time that conferences are being held at World Gymnaestrada; and even if only a small number of people are responding, the Organising Committee is proud of its innovation. It was their aim to offer a more diverse package of activities to gymnasts, while welcoming local inhabitants to meet with some of Lausanne's public figures.
The conferences are given in French, with simultaneous interpretation into English.