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Time We Solved Cricket’s Racism Problem

Dec/09/2021 / by Cate Reynolds
Image Credits: SB Sports Photography/Alamy

Sport has long been used as a platform of protest. Nothing captures the world’s imagination (and televisions) like sport and represents so well the world’s politics. Perhaps there’s no better example than in cricket, a game actively featuring the colonized and colonizers on the world stage since becoming England’s national sport in the 18th century.

In 1971, there was an international boycott of apartheid sport in South Africa because the government, as well as sports administrators who control all official sport, had jointly and deliberately excluded South Africa’s non-white people from participating in representative sport. Apart from being an abominable piece of legislation, it was also out of step with the times, where anti-racism movements in sport had been going on for quite some time.

Despite some effort and its long history, although conversations about racism and women’s representation have been carrying on for decades, countries like England and South Africa continue to contend with a problem they haven’t quite been able to solve in cricket: racism. Well until 1995, there were a number of ‘ugly and regrettable crowd incidents’ that had racist undertone in an England vs Pakistan test series.

Just last month, ex-Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq, 30, a British-Pakistani player of Pakistani descent, caused a huge scandal in cricket when he testified before a British parliamentary committee about several instances of racism he has faced over the years, asserting that this ended his career.

Among other allegations, he said former English captain Michael Vaughan had told Rafiq and other Yorkshire players of Asian origin that there were “too many of you lot, we need to do something about it” during a county match in 2009. Rafiq also said that England’s Gary Ballance used the name “Kevin” to refer to people of color, and claimed Hales, who also dressed in blackface at a costume party he attended in his twenties, named his dog Kevin as it was black — an allegation Hales denied.

Recent instances in the past couple of years have also brought to light South Africa’s intractably deep-seated racism problem. More than a year after the gruesome nature of George Floyd’s racially motivated murder by American police shook the world — inspiring many white people to reckon with their role in ending racism — South African player Quinton de Kock withdrew from an International Cricket Council (ICC) T20 match against the West Indies because he felt the directive to take the knee for racism was hurting his rights — only to withdraw his decision a day later.

These complaints and issues are not limited to men’s sports. They are just part of the problem that hounds the women’s cricket team as well. Former Indian women’s cricketer Jaya Sharma took to Facebook live last year to reveal how she and her teammates were subjected to racism during the 2005 Women’s Cricket World Cup in South Africa. They were also allotted rooms with no fans or basic amenities. The best buildings were reserved for white players.

We also see significant gender gaps when we look at the number of women participating in sport – according to Women in Sport, 1.5 million fewer women than men participate in sport at least once a month. Women make up only 18% of qualified coaches and 9% of senior coaches. For almost half (49%) of publicly funded national governing bodies, less than a quarter of their boards are women.

South Asian women athletes from Afghanistan to Nepal and Sri Lanka shared horrifying experiences of harassment, discouragement, and lack of support, in countries torn by war and where even getting an education is a matter of very, very good luck.

In response to Rafiq’s allegations, the England and Wales Cricket Board announced its full support for a wide-ranging action plan to tackle racism and promote inclusion and diversity at all levels of the game — in both men’s and women’s versions of the sports. It plans to have an independent commission for equity in cricket and a thorough investigation into dressing room culture. Although promising, it appears that a problem more than 200 years old will need more time to solve, and demand more from majorities by way of commitment.

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