Cricket, they say, is a gentleman’s game. But the disgrace which occurred on the fourth day of the ongoing third Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) doesn’t bear witness to this adage at all. Team India pacer Mohammed Siraj was subjected to abuse by a section of racist Australian supporters who called him “Brown dog” and “Big monkey” before being evicted from the stands by security officials when the bowler complained to his captain Ajinkya Rahane, who was quick to take up the matter with the on-field umpires. What is worse is that such shameful indiscretion, nonchalance and mindset of the Aussie spectators is a recurring theme, given that even the previous day Siraj and Jasprit Bumrah were on the receiving end of racial abuse. According to a media report, the Australian fans had been drunk. “Bumrah and Siraj were called monkeys, w**ker and mo**er by the people almost throughout the time they were fielding at the boundary,” it claimed. What lends more currency to the two Indian bowlers’ allegation is the fact that a number of cricketers — including Sachin Tendulkar, Harbhajan Singh, Ravichandran Ashwin and Virat Kohli — have come out to counter the New South Wales Police’s claim that the six fans were only “welcoming Siraj to Sydney” by unequivocally stating that they had had also undergone many incidents where “really pathetic things were said” near the boundary rope.
But it has been an issue in Australian sport stretching back decades, on and off the field. Aficionados would vividly remember the Monkeygate scandal involving Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds during the second India-Australia Test in Sydney in 2008-2009, and Kohli’s flipping response — yes, to the Sydney crowd, again — in the 2011-12 series. Then, Cricket Australia was forced to lodge an investigation when England cricketer Moeen Ali accused an Australian player of name-calling him during the 2015 Ashes series. In his autobiography, Ali had revealed that he was called “Osama” by an Australian player. As per an extract, an Australian player had turned to him on the field and said: “Take that, Osama.” The Englishman had asserted that he “could not believe” what he had heard at the time. Similarly, former Australian Test star Usman Khawaja has previously said he was abused so much growing up that he refused to support the national side, and claimed racism once even played a role in selections for the team. Even off the field, several attacks on Indian students across different Australian cities have been ascribed to “racism” and “racial overtones” and, during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Asians were targeted by linking them to the likely origin of the disease in China. The International Cricket Council’s (ICC) “anti-racism code” clearly banishes “engaging in any conduct (whether through the use of language, gestures or otherwise) which is likely to offend, insult, humiliate, intimidate, threaten, disparage or vilify any reasonable person in the position of a player, player support personnel, umpire, match referee, umpire support personnel or any other person (including a spectator) on the basis of their race, religion, culture, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin”. It is high time, therefore, that Cricket Australia, in tandem with the police authorities, take expeditious and strict action against the racist bigots and make an example of them so that their, and that of others like them, perfidiousness comes to a permanent halt. The ongoing series is currently locked 1-1 and the finale is scheduled in Brisbane from January 15.