The independent voice of cricket

Australia v India

Reaction to Siraj abuse shows how far cricket is from being truly inclusive

Yas Rana by Yas Rana
@Yas_Wisden 4 minute read

Yas Rana explains how the failure to put a halt to the Mohammed Siraj abuse at Sydney, and the clamour to discredit him online, shows how deep cricket’s issues with inclusivity run.

It was the increasingly sage Ravichandran Ashwin who summed it up best. “I was quite surprised that some sections of the crowd continuously did it and there were no mates around them who pull them up for it,” said Ashwin at the close of play. “It definitely had to be dealt with. Disappointing is actually a very, very mild word, I must say.”

The Indian off-spinner was speaking to the media after accusations of racial abuse were levelled at members of the SCG crowd for the second day in a row. Ashwin was referring to the absence of any form of intervention from bystanders at the ground, but he could so easily have been talking about the reaction of hordes of cricket fans, and occasionally journalists, online.

Ashwin’s comments struck a chord that profoundly resonated with me. In 2017, I was racially abused by strangers twice in the space of a month. The first instance occurred in broad daylight on a busy high street when a drunk man hurled a series of broadly incoherent and at times indiscernible insults in my direction, one of which was racial in nature. I wasn’t hugely fussed; it was evident that this guy wasn’t totally compos mentis.

The second instance was different, though. It happened in what ought to have been a relatively safe environment, that of a university-organised holiday. One evening, a student, who I did not know, decided to direct a series of foul, racially charged insults towards me.

In the moments that passed – once the emotions had subsided – two thoughts came to mind. Firstly, what on earth compels someone to abuse another person on the basis of their skin colour? Secondly, that the power in the interaction lay neither with me nor the person hurling the abuse, but the onlookers. His mates let the stream of abuse flow, but they didn’t have to. Realistically, I couldn’t stop the racist from being racist and once the racist decided to out his xenophobic inclinations he was unlikely to perform a u-turn of his own volition, but his friends had the power have put a stop to it. The surrounding silence emboldens the person peddling hate. It was their lack of intervention that felt genuinely degrading. Am I not worth defending in the eyes of the majority here? In the case of Mohammed Siraj, not enough onlookers have intervened.

It’s worth clarifying that the exact nature of the abuse has yet to be proven one way or the other and the respective boards have moved quickly in condemning any abuse that’s taken place, but the early picture isn’t a pretty one. Australian media outlets have carried quotes from an eyewitness who said: “All these boys were doing is a bit of sledging of the player on the outfield. First it was Bumrah then they had a sledge against Siraj. They kept calling him Shiraz and all that crap. Next thing you know they said: ‘Welcome to Sydney, Siraj’ and then he got the sh***. That was literally it. Then he walked off.”

To many, this quote was used as vindication for the evicted spectators. Even if this was the extent of the accusation, changing the name of a devout Muslim to the name of an alcoholic drink is at best naive and distasteful and at worst, outright malicious. It’s not a stretch to see how mocking someone’s name, a marker of their faith and ethnicity, portrays a feeling of unwelcome ‘otherness’ towards the individual. Others have cited the lack of police charges so far as further evidence of complete innocence, as if every legal action is morally desirable; smoking in the same room as a newborn isn’t illegal, but it’s hardly responsible. Cricket and its supporters should be striving for more than merely not breaking any laws during play.

The Times of India have reported that the BCCI believe that Siraj was subjected to far worse.

My experience of racism and living in a predominately white country as a non-white person is that race-related comments often cannot be placed on a dichotomy of racist/evil actions on one side and non-racist/good actions on the other. It’s a scale that slides from unintentional micro-aggressions to calculated displays of hate intended to belittle and it’s important to understand that even the smallest micro-aggression, intended or not, has the power to cause hurt. And whether the intent was consciously racist or not, it’s clear that a section of supporters intended to hurt Siraj.

It’s why it’s concerning to see so many initially show empathy towards the accused supporters, rather than to the player. It’s baffling that a significant number of responses leapt to defend the reported comments – ‘Oh, but it’s just banter, it’s not that bad’ – rather than empathise with a player who has made the very difficult, brave and public stance against what he felt to be abuse. Whatever the exact nature of the comments, Siraj clearly felt that they were abusive. It’s no small thing to halt an international match in full flow, and Siraj won’t have taken the decision lightly. The rush to poke holes in his story, to shift the blame to the victim, is ugly in the extreme.

It’s convenient to think that those kind of supporters are in the minority. But this is far from an isolated incident. For the game to make genuine progress here and be truly inclusive, it needs bystanders to do and say more. Instead of performing mental gymnastics to defend the accused, we should be listening to and learning from the claims of the victims.

Have Your Say

Become a Wisden member

  • Exclusive offers and competitions
  • Money-can’t-buy experiences
  • Join the Wisden community
  • Sign up for free
Latest magazine

Get the magazine

12 Issues for just £39.99