Recognised By: THE PRIME MINISTER OF AUSTRALIA & PREMIER/GOVERNER & CHIEF COMMISSIONER OF POLICE OF VICTORIA      Victoria's first Melbourne Monthly Newspaper since October 1993


Casual racism in cricket teams need to be stopped

The former Aussie cricketer-turnedcommentator, who is of Indian origin, opens up on the racism she's faced over the years in the sport. It wasn't particularly easy for Lisa Sthalekar, of Indian origin, to grow up in Australia. It wasn't that tough either with her being as good at cricket as she was. That didn't, however, take away the fact that Lisa was different from the everyday white Australian and had faced her fair share of hardships while making a name for herself on the world stage.

Sthalekar said, “There was one time where... I don't even know the circumstances, but my teammates were trying to pin me down and put a bindi on my forehead with a permanent marker. And I was fighting that off because it pissed me off .” She added “There's been casual racism within cricket teams regularly growing up. People would say, 'You need to carry the bags, Lisa'... things like that over the years.”

But apart from the casual racism on the field, the brunt of it was faced by Lisa's sister, Caprini, who had it a lot worse growing up. Sthalekar said, “I know my sister had a lot of issues growing up in Australia. She is from Bangalore and is a lot darker. She was probably the only one within her school that was that dark and wore glasses... she didn't have the luck of the draw in that sense. She had to actually move schools because she was getting bullied, but those things unfortunately happen. But both me and my sister have always had an open, honest relationship with our parents. That enabled us to move on and get on with things. Like I said, for me, it wasn't as bad as it was for my sister. Sport covered over things for me that were there for others.”

Another case was a person who was born in Sydney in the 1980s to an Indian-South African father and an Indian-Kiwi mother. Growing up in Engadine, a suburb south of Sydney, he was one of a handful of brown kids in school. He says, “There were a few houses in Engadine with Australian flags in the front yard as I was growing up. When I was 14 or so, as I was walking one day, a young kid on a trampoline in the backyard of one of these houses started hurling racial abuse at me. What stuck in my mind, besides the flag, was that his parents and their friends didn't react as I would have expected. They didn't pull him up, or tell him to stop, so I just stood there looking at them, in a kind of challenge to see if they'd do something.”

Sthalekar was asked the prevalence of racism on the broadcasting front in her role as a commentator. “I don't believe so because what they tend to do with most broadcast teams is just from a commentary panel there is diversity now; male and female, people from different countries as well, their perspective of the match. And then if you dig a little bit deeper, if you look at the 100-odd people who are working behind the scenes to make sure the pictures, sounds, and everything is working, that is a broad group of multicultural people coming together - South African, Indian, English, Singaporean, Australian, Americans, you name it... we're all in one melting pot trying to give you guys the broadcast. I've never felt it in the broadcast world, but I'm sure there would be some people who would have some examples of what it was like earlier.”

One can recall following the Sri Lanka-Australia series in 2002, Darren Lehmann walked into the Sri Lankan dressing room and called them “black—-” in the presence of several witnesses. The Australians immediately recognised the gravity of this action and he was made to offer an apology. The Sri Lankan Cricket Board acted very graciously and pleaded for leniency with the referee Clive Lloyd. And all this while all that the Australian Cricket Board could think of was to suggest counselling. Lehmann’s fellow players stood up for him describing him as a “very good man”. It was only after an international uproar that he was banned for 5 ODIs. He returned to the Australian side, was made the captain of the one-day team and later on as the national coach which ended after the Cape Town cheating with ball incident. This is the same Australian team that demanded that Harbhajan should have been given a life ban for the incident in Sydney.

Late Peter Roebuck, eminent columnist and commentator was an intelligent and very private person with a strong and independent outlook, he crossed the divide as a truly international cricket correspondent. A determined player and captain for Somerset, Roebuck would summer alternately in England and Australia writing and broadcasting, before falling out of love with his homeland and moving to South Africa. Despite his English background Roebuck was widely read and respected in the subcontinent, particularly India, for his insight, fairness and anti-establishment views.

Peter Roebuck astutely remarked about the Lehman incident. He Said “To believe this was the first time Lehmann used this terrible language about black people is to show the indulgence of a parent who believes their teenager’s ‘it was my first joint’ defence. Lehmann’s misfortune is that he is the man who got caught revealing the unwitting racism that infuses not only Australian cricketing culture but mainstream Australia.”

During the infamous 2008 Sydney Test, Peter Roebuck described the Australian players as "wild dogs" and called for Ricky Ponting’s sacking as captain following their celebrations after the controversial victory over India in Sydney, inflaming one of the most spiteful and unfortunate Tests of all time. Except for the late Peter Roebuck, every newspaper went out of its way to castigate the Indian players and their stated positions.

Recently days ahead of the quarter-final match against India during the Under-19 World Cup, 17-year-old cricketer and Australian opener Jake Fraser-McGurk took to his Instagram page to express his excitement over the much-awaited battle. "Quarter Finals here we come!" Jake captioned the post along with photographs of himself and Australian squad. The harmless post celebrating a cricketing event, however, left a bad taste among fans especially those from India when Jake's Aussie teammates decided to join him and drop in some distasteful and racist comments under his Instagram post. The (now-disabled) comments came from Australian cricketers Oliver Davies, Liam Scott, Lachlan Hearne, Sam Fanning and Tanveer Sangha. "Sir, give me WhatsApp number I want to be friend (sic)," commented Liam Scott. "Young Steve Smith sir," wrote Lachlan Hearne. The screenshot of the same later went viral on Reddit's r/Cricket, where cricket fans slammed the young team for engaging in casual racism on social media and seemingly mocking the accent and language used by Indian cricket team.

Explaining the comments made by them, one Reddit user wrote, "Reference to South Asian people showing their love, support and respect for foreign players in broken English." Basically, the comments were written in broken English by way of making fun of Indian plays (and by extension Indians), many of whom come from humble backgrounds and may not have had the privilege of receiving formal English education.

This is what the great cricketer and commentator Michael Holding pleaded recently during the Test series in England. The pace bowling legend was making a passionate plea in which he asked the society to change their attitudes towards racism.

Holding said, ‘‘We need to go back and teach both sides of history and until we do that and educate the entire human race this thing will not stop’’. Racism is a foul practice and deserves to be actively eliminated in the same manner as terrorism. It demeans everyone – victims, perpetrators and observers.

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