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Racism in cricket? Refer to Australian report just out

While the Symonds controversy brews, an internal report says racial abuse is prevalent in Australian cricket

The noise coming out of the Australian cricket camp over its star Andrew Symonds being taunted by “monkey chants” during last week’s one-day international in Vadodara seems a bit over the top—when you consider the startling contents of an Australian government-backed report that was released today.

Racial abuse is prevalent across the sporting world of Australia, including its cricket grounds, says the report titled ‘ What’s the Score? A survey of cultural diversity and racism in Australian sport’ that was released today by Australia’s Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC).

On Australian cricket, the report points to “racial sledging” of South African cricketers who “were referred to as kaffirs by a small section of spectators” at Perth in December 2005. It says that cricketers from Sri Lanka were “subjected to calls of ‘black c——’ at Adelaide, and adds that an ICC security official was punched by spectators in Melbourne.

“It is clear that incidents of racial abuse and vilification are prevalent across all major sporting codes, involving professional sportspeople, amateurs, coaches and spectators. The fear of racism in Australian sport is also a major barrier to participation for Indigenous people and those from various ethnic and cultural groups,” says Race Discrimination Commissioner Tom Calma about the report that has been put up on the commission’s website http://www.hreoc.gov.au.

Focusing on Cricket Australia, apart from 16 other national sporting organisations Down Under, the report says: “Don’t believe the spin doctors — racism still exists in sport.”

Under the heading ‘A Summer of Discontent’, the report says about racism in Australian cricket:

“It is not surprising that Cricket Australia was highly embarrassed by the racist taunts directed at visiting cricketers during the 2005-06 international series, which led to an International Cricket Council (ICC) investigation into the behaviour of Australian crowds.

“The racist sledging of players by spectators started during the Perth Test in December 2005, when some South African players were referred to as ‘kaffirs’ by a small section of spectators in the crowd. Similar taunting was also reported by the South African players in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Members of the Sri Lankan team were subjected to calls of ‘black c——’ from spectators at the Adelaide Oval during a One Day International match on Australia Day.

“Players haven’t been the only targets. The International Cricket Council’s regional anti-corruption and security chief, John Rhodes, was punched by a drunken spectator at Melbourne’s Telstra Dome after being identified as South African.”

Under another heading ‘Deep Concerns Remain’, the report says, “For racism to have infected Australia’s national summer pastime and a sport long regarded as one of the world’s most ‘civilised’ games is deeply concerning for a country that prides itself on being fair-minded and multicultural.”

It adds: “So too is a recent survey of cricket fans, which indicates opinion is divided on the contentious behaviour of Australian crowds. Many seem to think there is no problem at all. A poll on cricket website baggygreen.com.au found that 46 per cent of 12,000 respondents believed crowd behaviour had been acceptable during the 2005-06 summer season.”

Then, it quotes Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland as saying, “ I think it’s embarrassing for Australian cricket that we are put in a position where this review has been implemented.”

However, the report acknowledges that “Cricket Australia acted quickly to reinforce its zero-tolerance policy towards racist abuse, with security staff ordered to eject any perpetrators from the ground and heavy fines for racist behaviour”.

In Vadodara, Australian all-rounder Symonds had alleged that he faced racial taunts from spectators during the one-day international, following which the ICC sent a letter to the BCCI, citing media reports, asking it to explain. The Australian media has also launched a high-pitched campaign against the Indian cricket board for its “inaction”.

BCCI’s Anti-Racism Commissioner Prof Ratnakar Shetty told The Indian Express: “All of us know how Sri Lanka’s Muttiah Muralitharan was taunted by crowds in Australia. We know how they treated England’s Monty Panesar. Look who is talking.”

Shetty, who is also the BCCI’s Chief Administrative Officer, added: “I was present in Vadodara during the match, and the noise from the crowd was deafening. I don’t understand how you could make out monkey noises from all that. What is this monkey noise, anyway? Or Mr Andrew Symonds should report to us exactly what was said to him. Then, it makes sense. But he has not done that, either.”

In fact, the Symonds episode is the latest in a one-day series of heated tempers — Australia leads 4-1 with the final match coming up tomorrow in Mumbai — with Indian off-spinner Harbhajan Singh earlier accusing the Australian cricketers of “ungentlemanly behaviour”.

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