New campaign to blow the whistle on racism, discrimination in Winnipeg sports

A team of athletes, coaches, sports administrators and others are tackling racism in sports in Winnipeg through a year-long research and public education campaign.

Immigration Partnership Winnipeg launched its Anti-Racism in Sport Campaign on Wednesday in Winnipeg with a one-hour virtual event hosted by former Winnipeg Blue Bombers centre Obby Khan.

The Ottawa-born lineman-turned-businessman, who is Muslim and of Pakistani descent, described his experience playing on three CFL teams as feeling like part of a family, but says playing high school and college sports “was a completely different picture.”

That has to change, said Khan, and it starts with educators and parents setting good examples.

“Inaction in the face of racism and discrimination is enabling the problem. It’s not enough to just not be racist. Not being racist is not the bar in which we measure ourselves,” he said. “We need to stand up and say something if we see something racist happening, period.”

WATCH | Obby Khan pushes for end to racism in sport: 

Former Winnipeg Blue Bombers centre Obby Khan helped kick off Immigration Partnership Winnipeg’s Anti-Racism in Sport Campaign Wednesday. 0:54

Several Manitoba teams, mainly hockey clubs, have been pushed to change derogatory or racist team names in recent years amid a growing demand for an end to racism in sports.

The new campaign aims to address racism and eliminate barriers to participation in sport in several ways over the next year. That will include virtual presentations for middle school students, a public awareness campaign and the signing of an anti-racism in sport accord.

Campaign research consultant Craig Brown said there’s a lack of information right now on the experiences of Indigenous, Black and other racialized community groups in sport locally, including newcomers and religious minorities.

Brown and others will review research on anti-racism initiatives elsewhere, and conduct novel research of their own. Focus groups convening in the next few months with athletes, community members and sports stakeholders will probe the subtle and overt ways racism is perpetuated on Winnipeg’s fields and courts, he said. 

‘Normalized to be excluded’

Knowledge keeper Clayton Sandy from Sioux Valley First Nation said things have come a long way since he was a boy. He grew up in the only First Nations family on Canadian Armed Forces base at Rivers, where his father served. 

Knowledge keeper Clayton Sandy says while things have come a long way from when he encountered barriers in his youth, racism persists in sports. (Submitted by Immigration Partnership Winnipeg)

He encountered barriers and racism trying to play sports through his youth as he moved to Dauphin.

“When I look back and think about being excluded from many different things living on the army base, it just seemed like an ongoing thing where I became normalized to being excluded,” he said. “It just always seemed like it was an uphill battle.”

That’s improved over time, he said, and there’s more diversity in sports than there was in his day. But Sandy’s 13-year-old granddaughter has started to experience forms of discrimination on the ice in recent years, as the only girl on a boys’ hockey team. He’s also detected undercurrents of racism from the stands.

“It’s sad to see that, but I think if we can work collectively together and all push in the same direction, try to educate as many people as we can about the issues that we grew up with … maybe people can open up their minds and take off their blinders.”

‘Barriers removed’

The anti-racism campaign will also feature workshops on inclusion in sports, which will be offered in the fall to parents, players, referees, coaches, board members and others, said Daria Jorquera Palmer.

Palmer, campaign project manager with Immigration Partnership Winnipeg, said course materials will focus on training people how to identify and eliminate racism in sport.

The courses will be based on findings of the research team that will be shared widely, and an anti-racism accord will provide tools and resources for organizations participating in the campaign.

Daria Jorquera Palmer is campaign project manager with Immigration Partnership Winnipeg. (Immigration Partnership Winnipeg)

The workshops will also channel calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission — particularly calls 89 and 90, which deal with inclusion in sports — said Palmer, who adds sports have influenced every aspect of her life as a player and referee.

She hopes the initiative will encourage others to advocate for an end to racism in sport.

“I want to see all of the barriers removed for people to participate,” she said. “I don’t want anyone else to experience what I went through.”

Sports Manitoba is one of the partners on the campaign and is prioritizing a focus on the ethical delivery of athletics in the province and developing education strategies long-term, said interim president and CEO Janet McMahon.

“We recognize sport is not an equal playing field and we’re committed to engaging our sport and community partners in thoughtful and respectful reflection to develop inclusive policies and protocols in our province,” McMahon said.

The campaign wraps in March 2022 and is funded by the federal department of Canadian heritage’s anti-racism and action program.


For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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