Cricket has been through many controversies, from chucking to match fixing, yet I believe we are on the cusp of the biggest problem it has ever faced. Not many people have noticed that now more so then ever the cricketing world is polarised to a previously unknown degree. This segregation of mind, body and soul within the cricket world is racial, and over the past month there have been a few incidents that point to a deeper problem in the future.
The first two incidents, which sparked controversy, related to a young South African named Hashim Amla. During the second Test in Colombo between Sri Lanka and South Africa, after Amla took a catch to dismiss Kumar Sangakkara and Australian commentator, Dean Jones was overheard saying, “the terrorist has got another wicket”. While Jones apologised profusely, the damage was already done. One may wonder, what made Jones make that utterly inappropriate comment? The answer lies in the appearance and perception of Hasim Amla as an individual.
Amla is a devout Muslim and sports a beard that could rival WG Grace; that coupled with his shaven head gives him the appearance of a Muslim of rigid faith. Yet to Dean Jones his mere appearance was enough to label him a “terrorist”. Now there are two sides to the story, Jones has repeatedly claimed that what he said was a joke, and has also openly accepted that it was a joke in bad taste. But that is over simplifying the matter, the truth is that the comment was made, and stereotypes were set, and seemingly everything was racially charged. Now if Amla had been a white player with a beard, would Jones still have called him a terrorist? If he were of a different faith would he still have been labelled a terrorist? The answer is an emphatic no.
When the joke was made, all Jones did was to speak what he thought in a rather offhand way, it showed to us that in his mind that it was acceptable to label a Muslim with a long beard a terrorist. Invariably half of Australia stood up to defend Jones, while most of Asia condemned him. Many people took the comment rather personally while others merely viewed it as a mistake from a distinguished cricketer. But after it was all said and done racial tensions were simmering.
Soon after that Amla was involved in an equally unsavoury incident. Copy Type Electronics put up a huge advertisement on the N1 highway in Johannesburg that read, “Thank goodness Amla didn't face a coolie Kreeper”. The word “coolie” was used by whites and other racist people in South Africa to describe people of Indian origin. The word has been banned along with a number of other racist terms in South Africa. What does interest me is that this incident occurred right after the derogatory terrorist remark by Dean Jones. The company that published the ad apologised for the terrible mistake and claimed an employee had illegally put up the sign. Again the apologies came too late and the damage was done. In my opinion a person who knew of or heard the earlier made terrorist remark decided to have a little fun and show his racist side. This only served to heighten racial and social tensions. To his credit Amla accepted both apologies from the Jones and Copy Type Electronics quietly and with grace. But the matter was far from solved; there were still lingering questions about the treatment of players of colour in the once noble game of cricket.
On the same tour of Sri Lanka after a bomb blast in the capital of Colombo, the South African team decided it would be best if they ended the tour early and left. Their justification was that the country was in a state of turmoil and that the safety of their players could not be guaranteed. It was a load of rubbish! The country has been in some form of civil war or the other for more than 20 years, why now was it best for them to leave? They should not have come in the first place if the country was so unfit to tour. The easy answer is that there was an explosion relatively close to their hotel, at a shopping mall where many of their cricketers visited. But that is not reason enough to leave, they also added that their security could not be guaranteed. The South African team also claimed that there was a possibility that the team bus could be caught in crossfire, the Sri Lankan authorities responded by saying that they would close down the main highways when the team was travelling so that there was also no probability of a car bomb. Aside from that South Africa had three, yes I said that right three waves of security forces guarding them and their hotel. What were they talking about when they claimed that the security of their players could not be guaranteed?
Along with the extra security that the Sri Lankan board provided, the 10th South Asian Games were being held in the capital at the same time of the cricket. There were more than 2500 athletes and officials from eight countries, why weren't they complaining about the security and threatening to leave? Even the Indian cricket team that was taking part in the same one-day series along with South Africa and Sri Lanka never even doubted the security; they stayed on. What exactly was it that the South Africans feared, in my opinion it was racially motivated. They did not feel at home in a country where bombings are regular occurrences, but they should also have been informed that in 1996 the Tamil Tigers stated that they would never target visiting cricket teams or tourists.
Last year the Ashes went on despite the London bombings, those were far some serious than the tit for tat political bombings in Sri Lanka. Why is it that when one white team tours another white nation and bombings of a global scale take place the tour is not cancelled? Yet when a white team tours a brown nation the first most insignificant bombings lead to a cancellation of the tour? Australia refused to tour Pakistan in 2002 because of the “war on terror” (lord knows that that had to do with the tour) and then they play on in England after major terrorist bombings. Pakistan went on with their tour of England this year after a huge terrorist plot in the county's biggest airport, they never even contemplated leaving. Since 9/11 only three nations have played cricket in Karachi and all three have been Asian countries, what more can I say? The double standards are plain to see, just as clearly as the racial lines are.
The recent Darrell Hair escapade is another example of rampant racism in cricket. It seems he is at his worst when having to umpire teams from subcontinent. First he no-balls Muralitharan, then Shabbir Ahmed and finally he accused Pakistan of ball tampering. The third and hopefully final incident should be the last of his umpiring career, but what he did was criminal. Firstly he “accuses” the team of ball tampering and awards England 5 penalty runs, and then after tea when Pakistan refuses to take the field in protest of his decision he awards the game to England by forfeit. This is a man who has consistently made biased decisions against teams from the subcontinent and yet no one accuses him of being racially biased. Let me be the first to say it, he is a racist!
The cricketing world is headed for disaster someone needs to step in and calm the simmering racial tensions. They may not be all that evident now, but if little things like these keep occurring then one day there will be a severe backlash. One hopes that will not happen.
The 2005 Academy award winning film Crash was a movie based on racial and social tensions in Los Angeles. If something is not done about racism in cricket then we will not be celebrating awards, we will find ourselves headed for the next great crash.
(R) thedailystar.net 2006