The Ashes and racism in cricket
Reports that Englandís spin sensation Monty Panesar has been subjected to racial abuse at the start of the Ashes tour are disappointing but not surprising. It is not the first time that Australian crowds have dished out unacceptable abuse to touring teams and, despite governing body Cricket Australiaís best efforts, it is hard to believe it will be the last.
While a bit of banter with the crowd is commonplace in cricket, spectators Down Under seem clueless as to where to draw a line. Either that or they just donít care if they cross that line. While we are assured by the Australian media that it is just a minority that is responsible for the abuse, racism is something that has dogged Australian cricket for some time. Earlier this year, South Africa made an official complaint about their treatment while on tour in Australia. According to reports, players were taunted with the terms 'kaffirs' and 'kaffir boeties', which are derogatory terms for black people and those sympathetic to them. Sri Lankan players were also targeted during a one day series in Australia in January. No malicious intent
Given the track record of Australian crowds, it is sad to say that Panesar was always destined to come under fire on the Ashes tour. The English bowler, a bearded Sikh who wears a black patka, has endured a rough ride from crowds throughout his fledgling Test cricket career, even at Lords, Englandís headquarters. He was met with ironic cheers every time he touched the ball while fielding for England during the summer, but there was no malicious intent from his home crowd. The mocking stemmed from a comedy of fielding errors during last winterís tour of India, but the spinner has endeared himself to the English supporters with some top-class bowling and can now be classed as one of the fansí favourites.
So while sledging is part and parcel of the gentlemanís game of cricket, racial abuse most certainly is not. The sooner that this message seeps through to Australia, the better for everyone involved in the game. Cricket Australia is planning to put up warning signs about racist taunts at venues and on ticket packaging, while spectators found guilty of racial abuse will be thrown out. This tough stance is to be applauded, but you canít help but feel that more could have been done. Weeks before the tour, the countryís cricket governing body gave fans the thumbs up to call English supporters Poms Ė as long as they said it nicely. The organisation said it was acceptable for fans to use the traditional word if it was not accompanied by any strong adjectives. Even though there wonít be too many English fans who will take great offence if they are branded as Poms, the message seemed to be that a certain amount of racism is acceptable. As a result, there are immediately grey areas. Perhaps Cricket Australia just thought it would be too much too soon to try and ban the use of the word Pom, but coming out and giving the word the green light was just thoughtless.
Even if there are some grey areas, what was allegedly said to Panesar blatantly overstepped the mark. According to an Australian newspaper, a spectator shouted: "Give us a wave Monty. You can't speak English you stupid Indian, I'll have to say it in Indian. What are you doing playing in the English side, you're not English?Ē This amounts to racism in its purist form and there is no place for it in society. In fact, it might be true that the culprit wouldnít use such language in normal life, but feels that because Panesar is on the cricket field, it is fair game. If that is the case, he couldnít be more wrong. Players should not have to put up with abuse any more than other members of society.Reference:: Sikh Philosophy Network http://www.sikhphilosophy.net/sikh-news/14582-the-ashes-and-racism-in-cricket.htmlReference:: Sikh Philosophy Network http://www.sikhphilosophy.net/showthread.php?t=14582 Something is clearly wrong
During the Ashes, we have been promised that fans found guilty of racist abuse will be hit with lifetime bans. Whether or not this will act as a strong enough deterrent remains to be seen. Alcohol is more often than not involved when sledging crosses the line to abuse. With the rivalry between the two teams during the Ashes likely to be as intense as ever, it is far from unthinkable that excitable crowds will lose control after a day of heavy drinking. Panesar certainly thinks he will be in for a rough ride. The spinner went to counselling ahead of the tour to help him cope with the abuse he fears the Aussie fans will throw at him. Psychological preparation for Test Match cricket is essential, as Marcus Trescothick will tell you, and Panesar will no doubt be targeted (in cricketing terms) by the Australian batsmen, but when it comes to a player needing counselling to cope with the supporters as well, something is clearly wrong.
We will just have to wait and see if the Panesar incident is an isolated one on this tour, but South African captain Graeme Smith has his doubts. In a recent interview, Smith said: ďI was chatting to some of our team just the other day and we all shivered at the prospect of what he (Panesar) could be in for. I sincerely hope for everyone's sake, but especially his, that it isn't of a racist nature, but our own experience obviously leaves us with doubts.Ē
If Smithís fears are confirmed then it will be time for the International Cricket Council to take a strong stance on the issue. An international ban for Australian cricket might seem extreme, but if it means that teams can tour the country in future without being subjected to unacceptable racist abuse, then it might be the way to go. It would also guarantee that England retains the Ashes and at the moment it could just be the touring partyís best chance of doing that.
By Tom Reed - MSN News Editor