No Win Race

Book: No Win Race: A Story of Belonging, Britishness and Sport Author: Derek A Bardowell Publisher: Mudlark (published in hardback by HarperCollins) Price: £16.99 (hardback) Review by Tricia Wombell

No Win Race has the feel of James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time and Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race. Bardowell’s uniqueness comes from telling a British story about race, identity and society through the lens of sport.

What drives the book’s narrative is the author’s relationship with his father and their shared love of cricket and boxing, nurturing of his young son’s love of sport and his concern about how society will view and treat him.

Part memoir, part social, part political history and part sports review, No Win Race is a well-researched read that gets you thinking about race, identity and what it means to be a Black Briton. Especially now that so many black sportsmen and women are high profile contenders. Meanwhile, racist attitudes often go unchallenged in sport and wider society, despite diversity and inclusiveness being acclaimed as core practices.

Key questions are explored. Why is it that black sportspeople have to conform to particular roles to be respected, or to be taken into the hearts of British sports fans? How is it that despite hugely successful careers, top black athletes rarely get senior roles in the administration of their sport?

This book is essential because it provides the narrative to the why, if not the answers to those questions. He interrogates, compares and analyses how British society thinks of, and treats, black sports people and interweaves his own life and career along the way.

Bardowell is most touching when sharing his relationship with his father, through cricket and the West Indies teams. His descriptions of the cricketers from the 1950s onwards are names that were celebrated in my own Jamaican-Kittian home, ensuring that we “the English ones” knew of those that had come before the winning West Indies team of the 1980s. In No Win Race, Bardowell fills in the gaps that our parents might have guessed at or if they did know, protected us from.

It is interesting to be reminded of the excitement that surrounded the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team coming to play in the UK. And then wonder what happened to that excitement. Why didn’t it result in basketball becoming as high profile here? It is clear that basketball is very much Bardowell’s great love, though some might struggle with his detailed explanation of the infrastructure of amateur/semi-professional basketball in London.

There are a few niggles. No Win Race would have been enhanced if it featured more Black British sportswomen.  Tessa Sanderson, Jessica Ennis-Hill or Christine Ohuruogu barely appear.  It would be good to hear about their challenges and achievements.

That said, Bardowell is insightful on the Eniola Aluko case. He states, “She’s been brave” while also acknowledging that many people in sport, and other walks of life, often don’t deal systematically with the racism they endure. “You confront it; tolerate it or joke about it.”

The book connects directly to the statements currently being made by the young superstar footballers Danny Rose and Raheem Sterling. They have been speaking up about the racist abuse they receive, particularly at European matches, and are clearly setting out how the football authorities should deal with it.  But will the football authorities respond to their satisfaction?

No Win Race will stimulate much discussion across generations of readers – both black and white. I would love to see it on secondary schools and university curriculums, and with the breadth of what it covers, it should feature on the reading list of many creative disciplines.

As Bardowell says: “I hope that people will read this [book] as openly and honestly as I’ve written it, and are willing to listen and debate without being defensive.”