Cricket Australia has confirmed that Indian cricketers suffered racist abuse at the Sydney Cricket Ground during the third Test of the recent series, and has yet again issued an apology to the players. It has also reaffirmed its resolve to identify and punish the spectators who were responsible for hurling racist abuse on Indian cricketers Mohammed Siraj and Jasprit Bumrah. Tracing them, it seems, is turning out to be a difficult task. The persistence of Cricket Australia, and the investigation by the New South Wales police, are heartening — they show to the players and spectators that the authorities are determined to stamp out the hideous monster of racism from cricket.
Last year, a report by a university in Florida suggested that incidence of racist abuse of sportspersons has been declining worldwide. This can be traced to the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times — as different societies and racial groups rub against each other regularly, a greater tolerance is fostered. This can be most dramatically seen in the case of Australia — in 1985, when India and Pakistan played in the final of a cricket tournament in Melbourne, a banner in the stands mocked them thus: ‘Bus Conductors vs Tram Drivers!’ Only 18 years ago, Australian player Darren Lehmann had the temerity to publicly call Sri Lankan cricketers ‘black c***s’. Yet, we’re not moving fast enough — in 2007, spectators at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium called Australia’s Andrew Symonds a ‘monkey’. Two years ago, Pakistan captain Sarfaraz Ahmed called South Africa’s Andile Phehlukwayo a ‘black man’. Racism is not going anywhere in a hurry.
As can be seen from contests even in same-ethnicity groups, sport is tribal in nature, and this ‘war minus the shooting’ often incites both fans and sportspersons to act in obnoxious ways. The efforts to make sports arenas nice and welcoming spaces for all are often in conflict with the tribalism inherent in sport. Yet, spectators and sportspersons must be, through harsh punishment if needed, made to follow modern rules of respectful engagement with each other. Punishment to those who abused Indian cricketers in Sydney would send out a strong message in this regard.