In the last couple of weeks, the racism debate has garnered steam in cricket thanks to the testimony of Azeem Rafiq but the sexting controversy has signaled the need for sportsmen to be good public figures.
In the last couple of weeks, the issue of racism has finally come out of the closet. We can all thank Azeem Rafiq and his testimony for uncovering the elephant in the room. For years, especially in England cricket, racism has been a prominent issue. Azeem Rafiq was not the first individual to be subjected to racism. Cheteshwar Pujara and the ‘Steve’ jibe because the player could not pronounce his name is an example of casual racism that is deep-rooted.
Many players and Counties in English cricket have been singed because of the racism charges. Michael Vaughan, David Lloyd are both cricketers and commentators of great value. They have been burnt badly because of the racism charges. Many players will be charged in the coming days.
At the same time, England’s Ashes rivals Australia is facing a big crisis with Tim Paine resigning from the captaincy of Australia. This was because of some explicit sexual messages which he had sent to a former colleague in 2017 which were about to become public. Text messages and player controversy! Haven’t we heard that before? Kevin Pietersen will perhaps attest to that.
But, there is a twist to Rafiq’s current situation. He is not just a victim, but he has also contributed to the rise in racism. Early in his career, he had shared anti-semitic messages with another cricketer in which Rafiq is seen to make disparaging comments about an unnamed Jewish person. Rafiq has apologized for the act in the ongoing hearings.
But, this shows the dilemma. The victim of racism has himself indulged in this act. Apologize or not, this is a moral flaw in his character. From the community that he comes from, anti-Jewish sentiment is a given due to the situation in the Middle East for the last seven decades. Rafiq cannot cry victim when he has himself indulged in it, even if it is a one-off act.
This current situation highlights the need for sporting personalities, across all spectrums of society and backgrounds, to be model citizens. The need of the hour is to ensure sporting personalities are free of prejudice, bias, and lack of awareness. The need of the hour is for sporting personalities to come out of their bubble and be aware of the wider world. Political neutrality, in an arena that has preached politics should be away from sports, seems to be the need of the hour. In the era of technology, making a political statement on the field has negative connotations than positive ones.
On the other hand, the Australian cricketing psyche has always been, ‘Play the game hard and honour the value, sacrifice of the Baggy Green’. When it comes to controversies, Australia has always come out hard on players who have indulged in misdemeanours.
Consider the ball-tampering scandal. Steve Smith, David Warner, and Cameron Bancroft were all banned by Cricket Australia for a year and nine months respectively. This was unprecedented for this offense. When one looks at the reaction other countries have had, Australia has already provided a strong deterrent. India veers on downright denial, England just comes up with a sloppy apology, and South Africa – well they have done it twice.
In the aftermath of the ball-tampering scandal, the culture of cricket in Australia changed. Tim Paine came after seven years to captain Australia out of the blue. But, four years later, in a cruel twist of fate, Paine now has seen his career come to a potential end due to the sexting scandal.
In the moral prism, Paine stepping down is commendable. But, it once again exposes the fact as to how difficult it is for sportsmen to be an ideal model. In the hard grind of sports, becoming an ideal individual is tough. Sometimes, in pain and fun, the lines are often crossed. But, those who overcome that are considered the epitome of greatness.
The coronavirus pandemic has presented mental pressures for sportsmen unlike any before. In a bio-bubble environment, mental health is a major priority. But, with the pandemic easing slightly in some parts, the issue of racism has now come out in the open. For a nation that has had so many players from different countries donning the national colours, it is perplexing that some Counties are ‘inherently racist’, as in the case of Yorkshire.
But, for racism to end, there has to be greater awareness. Education must be ingrained about diversity and perpetrators have to be given harsh punishments. One cannot adopt the sub-continent method of dealing with this. India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan allow ball-tamperers, match-fixers, discipline breakers to be punished and then they are assimilated back into the mainstream through media appearances. A cricketer can just be given a notice on a casteist slur in India but the case will not act as a deterrent. The time for discipline and awareness for sporting personalities is greater now.