The saddest part about watching cricket at a stadium in India, apart from the sorry state of stands at most grounds, is the baring of prejudices held by a certain set of spectators, racism being one of them. The recent tweet from Abhinav Mukund on people’s obsession with his skin colour and the name calling he had to face because of it is a sorry reminder of the petty biases some of us hold.
— Abhinav mukund (@mukundabhinav) August 9, 2017
Watching someone who plays cricket at the highest level using his reach to articulate his views on a sensitive topic is refreshing. The choice of words from the left hander here is as classy as his languid drives through the off side, but the reality behind the words is quite gloomy.
Of course, racism and cyber bullying is a much bigger problem that the society as a whole is struggling with, but somehow it hurts more when it makes its way into sports. Sports is always supposed to transcend barriers, we expect it to be the paragon of virtues. Cricket, a word that is synonymous with “fairness” in the dictionary even more so.
The BCCI has robust laws against racism in its constitution but to catch and prosecute offenders in a stadium teeming with loud spectators is a tricky ask. Also as Mukund pointed out, the racist slurs have grown in magnitude with the rise of social media, something BCCI has no control over.
The issue of racism in cricket isn’t new to India although the authorities have always tried to sweep it under the carpet when they should have been shouting at the top of their voice to put an end to it. Touring West Indian players have long been subjected to the harshest treatment from Indian crowds. Taunts like ‘kaliya’ are commonplace for a West Indian fielder standing close to the boundary.
In general, visiting players try not to speak about it openly fearing an unnecessary backlash. On rare occasions, we hear a story from a player opening up off the record to a journalist. West Indian fast bowler, Mervyn Dillon wasn’t kind in his assessment of Mumbai crowd while talking to a journalist and remarked that he has never been subject to so much racial abuse anywhere in the world.
In 2007, the issue of racial abuse at cricket ground took centre stage when Andrew Symonds was heckled by the crowd with monkey chants every time he walked in to bat. The Australians were furious at the behaviour and rightly so.
Vipul Yadav, a regular at Wankhede and several other grounds at India had spoken about the incident. He and a few others present at Wankhede that day felt that a few in the crowd did indeed cross the line. The Indian authorities though tried their best to wash their hands off the issue but had to take action when photographs of two men doing monkey-like gestures at Wankhede came out. The culprits were duly named, shamed and prosecuted.
In the following T20 game at CCI in Mumbai, Vipul recalls that there were boos in the crowd but no monkey chants. The miscreants learn quickly when authorities take strong action. Since the Symonds incident, fan groups at Wankhede, like the North Stand Gang have put conscious effort to stop racism on the ground in all forms and have been successful to a fair degree.
However, fan group can only go so far in educating the crowds, it’s up to the ground administration to ensure we have zero tolerance to racism. Anyone in the crowd who shouts anything objectionable should be severely reprimanded and repeated offenders should be permanently banned from the stadium. BCCI, on its part, should come up with strong deterrents like a long term ban or a fine against State board that isn’t able to control racism on the ground.
Players like Mukund on their part perhaps have the biggest role in showing us the mirror and making sure we take a corrective course before another Symonds incident happens at one of the grounds.