Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Stamp racism out, but at what cost?

Racism is one of the ugliest faces of human nature. Incredibly, it is also one of the most common. Across the world, it has manifested itself as one of, if not the, worst human rights crisis that any of us have ever seen. From the Apartheid regime in South Africa to the holocaust in World War II, people have, for as far back as we can remember, discriminated against others on the basis of skin colour, religion and race.

Cursed, it seems, are minorities. Far from basic human rights, they have always been picked on. Some people have genuine hate for those who are different. Others see them as easy targets. And some enjoy going with the crowd. It is the latter, I suspect, that is the most common. Many people appreciate the difference in cultures, races and religions, and do not care to put others down on the basis of any of those factors, whilst others decide that some of them are not worth respecting or protecting.

Whilst the days where one could be racist without any political, social or legal ramifications are gone, the problem still remains. In particular, sport has always struggled with it. The image of Nicky Winmar responding to some insensitive fans by holding his guernsey up and pointing to his skin is etched into the memories of so many, and Kevin Pietersen’s relocation to England because their racial quota system (which to ensure black cricketers weren’t discriminated against, instead discriminated against white cricketers) kept him out of their system. But the greatest struggle that sport, and indeed cricket specifically – with players of different races touring many countries on a regular basis – has had, is fans.

Two years ago, Australia’s problem was exposed when the South African cricket team complained about Australian spectators racially abusing their players. The issue had existed in Australian crowds for longer than that of course, as this writer knows from personal experience having sat near such fans on several occasions, but the pressure was suddenly on Cricket Australia to crack down on such behaviour.

CA responded, announcing a large campaign to improve behaviour at the cricket, with former fast bowler and cricketing character Mervyn Hughes giving fans ‘A serve from Merv,’ as part of an ad campaign. Action was being taken it seemed, and fans were on their best behaviour according to most reports.

Boxing Day is always a major issue for authorities at the cricket, but despite two pitch invaders and a century of ejections, cricket fans were generally praised for being well behaved. Most of all, it seemed that despite tension between Indian and Australian fans, there had been no racial discrimination going on. After the second day, authorities were still fairly pleased. On this particular day, however, as so often seems to occur, a story was found: Amongst all the ‘you are a wanker’ chants aimed at those - no matter how young - that don’t have the guts - or stupidity - to throw a beach ball after being warned against it by policemen, not to mention the ‘let’s go f’ing mental’ chorus after every wicket, and of course the customary ignorance regarding sexual orientation and opposing batsmen, the Herald Sun picked out a small chant, which had been accompanied by a lot of tension between Australian and Indian fans, and labelled it racist.

The chant in question was, ‘Show us your visas,’ and it was started by a fan who, amongst all the fun going on with fans of both sides throwing whatever they could at each other, decided to say something that was as silly as it was harmless. The Indians did not show offence. They did not report it to the authorities. The policemen, of whom there were plenty in Bay 13, did not bat an eyelid. The Indian fans returned fire with an insult aimed at Australian heritage and culture; ‘Show us your handcuffs,’ and was accompanied by a few single finger gestures. In fact, there were plenty of those coming from that bay.

So what has occurred here? According to the paper, it was racism. Never mind the fact that no one seemed to care too much. Never mind the fact that show us your handcuffs is equally as insulting, and never mind the fact that drunk men at the cricket are not generally supposed to be taken seriously, which most intelligent Indian fans seemed to get. It was a small few who thought they’d complain to get everyone in trouble.

Was this racist? Personally, I doubt it. All day there were rude chants, throughout the game supporters of either nation were more than happy to throw whatever they could come up with at each other. This particular one was selected as racism.

As I said in the beginning, racism is a terrible thing, and must not be allowed to manifest itself as it once did so casually. But do we really need to play such fun police at sporting events? A few years ago, fans would specifically refer to cricketers of a different skin colour with derogatory, downright racist terms. Today, they are being persecuted for making jokes about immigration. Unlike Dean Jones, who called South African Muslim Hashim Amla a terrorist because of his beard, or the Zimbabwean cricket board that often refuses to select white cricketers because of their skin colour, this fan simply made an ignorant, but pretty much harmless, comment to further stir up the fans.

Can’t we just go to the cricket and have fun without being pulled up for racism at every corner? You can’t skull a beer, you can’t play with beach balls, and you can’t wave your arms in the air, so surely we can at least enjoy ourselves by playing around with the opposition?

My advice to journalists and authorities alike is, focus on the ones actually without visas.


Daniel @ Garanhuns said...

In the days leading up to the Boxing Day match there was plenty in the press about the steps authorities were taking to prevent this type of behavior from the fans. While I agree that these type of incidents must be stopped, it does seem that their efforts went a bit to the extreme. One incident I heard about was about some fans who went with sign saying "7-11: supporting Indian Cricket around the globe", something to that effect. These fans were Kiwi's (now, is that being offensive?) sitting with Indian friends, and the Indian fans were laughing with them, enjoying the match, but the sign got confiscated.

This is not an easy issue to handle. Football clubs across Europe are facing it as well, and it even turns up from time to time in South America (I live in Brazil). Nike started a program with Theirry Henry and it has had some effect. Perhaps cricket can try something similar with a couple of starts from each team.

Richard Lake said...

There is a danger of mis-taking banter for racism. However, there is also a danger in letting banter becoming racist. The plea that it is "only a bit of fun" should not stand for some of the abuse that say Monty Panesar took in Australia last year.

In England, the football authorities have taken a zero tolerance stance on this for a number of years, which has had a massive effect. However, this does mean that the English do as a country react more strongly than may be expected to other nationalities (particularly the balkans) where this culture is not engrained.

While the action taken looks like an over-reaction, until the Australian authorities can lose this stigma that surrounds the sport, then I would support the zero tolerance approach.