RACISM STOPPED play at the Sydney Cricket Ground Sunday.
In line with the recent global trend, where sportspersons are starting to draw the line between banter and racist abuse from the stands, the Indian cricket team put their foot down and ensured that the Test against Australia in Sydney was halted for 10 minutes Sunday till a group of unruly spectators were evicted.
The break in play followed an incident on Saturday when Indian pacers Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj said racist comments were directed at them as they fielded on the boundary line. “We had decided Saturday evening that if something like this happens again, we will immediately identify them,” an Indian team management official told The Indian Express.
On Sunday, Day 4 of the Test, as Bumrah was about to start running in during the 86th over of Australia’s second innings, Siraj walked up to stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane, and umpires Paul Reiffel and Paul Wilson.
The 26-year-old debutant from Hyderabad said that a section of the crowd racially abused him while he was fielding in front of the Brewongle and Clive Churchill stands — the same area of the ground from where the racist chants were made Saturday. As he pointed to the alleged abusers, all the players — including the batsmen, Australia captain Tim Paine and Cameron Green — stood together at the middle of the ground.
Play resumed only after police evicted six people from the ground for their actions. Cricket Australia said they have launched an investigation into the incident “parallel with the New South Wales police”. The International Cricket Council, too, condemned the incident.
Captain Virat Kohli said “racial abuse is absolutely unacceptable”. “Having gone through many incidents of really pathetic things said on the boundary lines, this is the absolute peak of rowdy behaviour. It’s sad to see this happen on the field,” Kohli tweeted.
Kohli’s side was at the receiving end of racist chants when India toured Australia in 2018. Even then, fans were ejected from the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Day 1 of the Boxing Day Test.
After the day’s play Sunday, when India were 98 for two and needed 309 more runs to win, spinner R Ashwin acknowledged that players had experienced “this in the past, especially from people in the lower tier” of the stand at Sydney.
“They have been quite nasty and hurling abuses as well. But this is the time they have gone one step ahead and used racial abuses… It is definitely not acceptable in this day and age. Sometimes this roots back to upbringing. This must be dealt with an iron fist and (officials must) make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Ashwin said.
The two incidents over the weekend are symptomatic of racism in cricket, especially in the stands. West Indies legend Michael Holding voiced his support for India’s move. “Abuse happens but once it’s racist, it has to be called out. The days of keeping quiet about racist abuse are over,” he told The Indian Express.
Recently, a section of the crowd in Manchester was accused of singing a racist song about England fast bowler Jofra Archer during a Test match against Australia. Former South Africa cricketers Hashim Amla and Mkhaya Ntini, too, had complained in the past about being on the receiving end of racist abuse from spectators in Australia.
In October 2007, four spectators were evicted from Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium for racially abusing former Australian cricketer Andrew Symonds during a one-day international match.
But now, sportspersons have started drawing a hard line.
Last month, in an unprecedented move, players from French football side Paris-Saint Germain and Turkey’s Istanbul Basaksehir staged a unanimous walkout in the middle of their Champions League match after a referee was alleged to have made a racist comment against one of the Istanbul coaches.
English Premier League team Tottenham Hotspur’s Jose Mourinho, considered one of the greatest managers in the sport, hailed it as an “iconic moment” while others saw it as a potential turning point in football’s fight against racism.