The police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed African American man, in Minnesota, USA, on May 25 sparked protests across America, bringing to light once again the age-old fight against systematic racism in the country. The message of the Black Lives Matter movement spread not only across America but throughout the world as well as people showed up in the thousands across continents in solidarity.
Soon cricketers too lent their voices to the cause with former West Indian captains Chris Gayle and Darren Sammy being amongst the first to broach the topic. Both were quick to point to the fact that this was not just an American problem but something they too had faced around the world. In a particularly poignant Instagram post, Sammy described how a racial slur had been used on both himself and Sri Lankan all-rounder Thisara Perera by teammates during their time with the Sunrisers Hyderabad franchise in the Indian Premier League. Sammy called out his teammates, claiming that he had not been aware of the meaning of the word and had assumed that it was simply an affirmation of his strength.
Indian cricketers Abhinav Mukund and Irfan Pathan too have addressed the fact that the use of racial slurs is so normalized that they are used even as terms of endearment in subcontinental countries like India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Perhaps the most recent example of this was the incident involving Pakistan skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed and South African all-rounder Andile Phehlukwayo which was caught on the stump mic. Ahmed was heard uttering a racial slur in Urdu directed at Phehlukwayo and was subsequently sanctioned by the ICC. Though somewhat bemused at the uproar surrounding the incident, Ahamed posted a public apology and is also have said to have contacted Phehlukwayo in private regarding the matter.
No team has been able to steer clear of the clutches of racism, not even Cricket’s ‘good guys’ New Zealand as was seen when England fast bowler Jofra Archer revealed that he had been on the receiving end of racial abuse from fans in New Zealand during a Test match in 2019. Other such publicized encounters include the infamous Monkey-gate incident involving Andrew Symonds and Harbhajan Singh, Dean Jones’ off-mic reference to Hashim Amla as ‘terrorist’, Darren Lehmann’s angry outburst against Sri Lanka and late Tony Greig’s racist verbal indiscretion that galvanized Viv Richards and the Windies.
It is fair to say racism is something of a problem, albeit not one that many in cricket like to talk about. But the events in the US have sparked a much-needed conversation. A conversation in which Kumar Sangakkara urged us all to be better, to demand it of ourselves, for each other, for our children.
The ICC has set the rules on the field, but member associations too have a role to play in nipping the problem in the bud. England Cricket, currently one of the most diverse member boards in Cricket, has been one of the first to take step forward in the battle against racism, acknowledging that systematic racism exists in Cricket within the United Kingdom and promising to continue to counter it.
Editor in Chief of ESPNCricinfo Sambit Bal captured it best in his piece on colourism and racism in the subcontinent – Cricketers are not only role models and flag bearers of the spirit of their sport. They are also, more than ever before, global citizens, and ignorance shouldn’t count as an excuse or serve as a shield.