Are Black People Better At Athletics?

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This weekend, the 2015 Athletics World Championships begins. This means we may witness the revival of the so - called ‘Genetics Debate’ that often follows athletics.

Mens Final Sprint

One of the ideas put forward in this discussion is the ‘fact’ that we – meaning black people are genetically better at certain sports. As much as I would like to address how racist and intellectually shallow these remarks are, I only intend to tackle the concept of what I’ve decided to call Genetic Black Superiority (GBS).

Going to school in South Kensington – probably the most conservative borough in London (next to wherever it is that Nigel Farage lives). I’ve heard things such as “It’s the black lifestyle” - don’t get me started on how ridiculous this sounds – that is responsible for black people excelling in athletics.  Though there may be are scientific disparities between the white and black population, I am sorry to inform the world that running is not actually required for the survival of brown-eyed people. From my own personal experience of life in my Grandfather’s village, in the south of Madagascar, I can confidently state that I’ve never seen an African kid desperately running for their life, while being frantically chased by a savage predator. Life in Africa cannot be compared to the constant chaos portrayed in scenes from The Lion King.

You could argue that our domination over white athletes in professional sports is proof that GBS exists. The problem behind this theory is that it’s overly idealistic. The best athletes infrequently make it to the professional level. So why are black athletes disproportionately represented in athletics?


“As far as we have come since segregated seating on buses, racism is still rife in our society.”


As they generally do, economics can also explain this phenomenon. Athletics costs less than swimming.  According to a recent survey by the website Business Insider UK, Black people are in perdition in comparison to white families, earning only 6% of the median income. So black people gravitating towards athletics is a very natural consequence of the world’s enduring economic hierarchy.

Society also plays its part in the matter. As far as we have come since segregated seating on buses, racism is still rife in our society. From birth, we perpetuate stereotypes: black people are more often than not directed towards arts and sports, and dissuaded from pursuing any scientific or literary interests. This tends to have a psychologically restricting effect on the professional options of our community and could serve as an explanation as to why black people generally gravitate towards sports more than white people.


What exasperates me the most is the generalisation that black people are better than white people at sprinting. An athlete’s individual life must not be glossed over. For instance, American sprinter Tyson Gay comes from a family of sprinters. Being engulfed from a very young age within the world of sprinting was clearly a key part in him becoming an incredible sprinter. In similar fashion, Michael Phelps began swimming at the age of seven. His relentless work ethic (not missing a day of training for more than 20 years is just example of many) helped him become the most awarded athlete in Olympic Games history. Every athlete’s life is unique: their motivations and ambitions, as well as their lives are determining factors when it comes to becoming a sportsman.

The idea of GBS constitutes a psychological barrier to white athletes who believe that they are at a disadvantage, which makes even attempting to be an athlete futile. Using genetics to explain statistical dominance is not only insulting to the athlete, but to the very notion that ‘hard work pays off.’ It’s a way of saying that his/her labour didn’t have any significance; that the success is only down to having that particular ‘advantage.’ Which is why I think that believing in GBS not a simple thought; but a scathing accusation against athletes of any kind.

The obsession with which society treats GBS leaves me  dumbfoundedAt the Olympics in 2012, American swimmers won almost 30% of the medals. I am yet to find any research that justifies their overall dominance over the sport. Which is why I say GBS is Genetic BS (pun intended).

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