“The Time Is Always Right To Do What Is Right”, used to say Martin Luther King Jr. That pushes us to take concrete action to build a better future from now on. The European Action Week Against Racism promoted by the United Nations from 16th until the 24th March 2019 specifically dealt with this.
LICRA Monaco, representing one of the oldest international associations fighting against racism, antisemitism and discriminations, in partnership with Peace and Sport, a Monaco-based independent organization aimed at boosting peace and intercultural coexistence through sport values since 2007, organized a very special event, under the auspices of H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco, last Friday, the 29th March 2019. The screening of a meaningful documentary: “Le Temps d’une etreinte” (Time for a hug) made in 2015 by the French film director Veronique Lhorme was the occasion to make high-school teenagers from major Monegasque ‘Lycée’ and university students gather together at Princess Grace Theatre, to reflect and debate on the importance of friendship to overcome any racial hatred.
This documentary-film is based on the true story about the unprecedented friendship between Luz Long, considered as the best German athlete of his time, and Jesse Owens, the first Afro-American long-jump record-man to make history, despite the North American segregations. In fact, he reached the podium at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games in full Nazi regime, making Adolf Hitler jump. Their sincere mutual respect, regardless of any human boundary is summed up in a few pictures. Unveiled sometime after, due to German censorship, they are depicting both athletes friendly smiling and supporting one another. A great lesson of life encouraged by the highest Olympic sport values framed by an unusual enthusiastic welcoming atmosphere from Berliners.
The forthcoming Second World War brutality, that will overwhelm the same sport ‘heroes’ soon after, was not expected yet. A frightful sense of racism and anti-Semitism were at the base of German Nazism promoting the blond and blue-eyed Aryan race as dominant community. A nasty feeling against which the Afro-American singer, actress and dancer, Joséphine Baker had been fighting until her death in Paris (1975). Her presence in the Monegasque international cemetery seems to witness her efforts to racial and gender inequalities. On Friday morning, a memorial ceremony in the presence of her son celebrated her figure so dear to H.S.H. Princess Grace of Monaco.
But can the engagements of those relevant actors from a recent past help us to defeat modern forms of prejudices and intolerances? What can we do to change the course of time actually learning lessons from history? HelloMonaco collected some inspiring feedbacks from Joël Bouzou (J.B.), president and founder of Peace and Sport, Éric Fissore (E.F.), president of LICRA Monaco, and the special guest Anita DeFrantz (A.D.), member of the Olympic International Committee and president of Tubman Truth Project.
HelloMonaco: Mr Fissore, celebrating the UN European Week devoted to anti-racism is not an easy task given the sensitivity of the topic, what gave you the idea to cooperate in making this multi-stage event happen?
E.F.: The multi-event day is just the result of a round table meeting we had some time ago at Palais Princier in the presence of H.S.H. the Prince Sovereign. Thus, we all agreed to conceive something more than a simple Memorial Day, focusing on quintessential players that could help developing the topic at best in Monegasque style. The recall of Joséphine Baker blew up in our mind immediately. She was, not for nothing, one of the first founders of LICRA specifically engaged in sexual orientation discriminations far in advance of her times.
HelloMonaco: Mr Bouzou, what about the afternoon session focused on sport as means of equality and respect?
J.B.: What makes the story of Jesse Owens and Luz Long so surprising is that they were not peace activists but sportsmen who met by chance and started being best friends thanks to their professional sporting and human solidarity. Although their family and social backgrounds were just the opposite, sport had put them on the same level. At Peace and Sport as well as at World Olympians Association I chair, we are aware of the fact that practicing sports can really bring people of different cultures together. Sport neutrality allows us to show everybody that sport and best champions can play a key role as peace-keeping ambassadors, addressed to all social layers. Doing sport is important not only for your health, for being fit, for spending leisure time but for prevailing over any social or cultural difference.
HelloMonaco: Mr Fissore, Mr Bouzou, how can we prevent racist messages to be conveyed through Social Media?
E.F. & J.B.: Sport champions should be responsible of their actions through their Social Media since they are reference points for thousands of followers. Many of them, like the renowned French footballer Antoine Griezmann, have fully understood their Media role. Concerning Peace and Sport, we are committed to use Social Media in a proactive way. In fact, our #WhiteCard campaign to promote positive sport values is now spreading globally.
HelloMonaco: Mrs Anita DeFrantz, how much does sport contribute to fight against discriminations?
A.D.: I believe that sport is a birthright everyone must have access to. A State that prevents citizens from doing sports is not a fair Country unable to move forward in the world. Sport has the ability to bring the entire World together as testified by 206 National Olympic Committees that bring peace, mutual respect and fair play, being inspirational for all. It is crucial to be part of that experience together with those who are next to you to make them no longer be strangers. In other words, sport makes opportunities possible.
HelloMonaco: How do you feel attending this symbolic event in Monaco?
A.D.: I feel honoured to have been invited since it is such an important thing. Racism is the last barrier to be removed. People should judge a person from what brings out instead of what looks like. Being here as a part of it makes me feel integrational. We need to fight against slavery allowing people to be what they can be.
HelloMonaco: How can we sum up the true spirit of this celebration?
A.D.: My favourite contemporary philosopher said: “trying is nothing, doing is”. It is so true. You can try to pick up a glass but much better is doing it. We can try against racism and antisemitism but it is not enough. We have to do it!