Well it was kind of ironic that we were talking to one of the main umpiring bodies today about representing them in sponsorship finding activity and all the main sporting headlines were being made over an umpiring decision. The context of course is the test series between Australia and India, where Indian spinner Harbhajan Singh was banned for the duration of the test series after being found to have called Australia’s only non-white player Andrew Symonds a monkey. Tonight the ICC bowed to pressure from the Indian authorities, who were suggesting that they might pull out out of series, and had umpire Steve Bucknor removed from umpiring the forthcoming test. They are also seeking to have Harbhajan’s suspension overturned. This sorry affair says an awful lot about the state of cricketing politics and ethics.
First point is that India and Harbhajan have previous form and from what I’ve seen of the pictures of the incident it’s easy to believe, as match referee Mike Procter did, that Harbhajan was almost certainly guilty of saying something offensive. If it was the word monkey, then in my view he deserved to be excluded for an undeniably racist comment. Harbhajan denied making the comment. A representative of Australia’s Indian community rather unbelievably later tried to suggest that monkey references weren’t in any case racist, as the monkey god is revered by hindus. Umm. If it is what was said I think we can assume it wasn’t said as a term of reverence.
Secondly it demonstrates that world power in cricket has shifted to India with its 500 million+ followers and the ICC and even Cricket Australia are running scared of upsetting them. I’ve no problem with India becoming the cricketing superpower but I’d like to see them wield their authority and status wisely. Threatening abandonment suggests a tendency to bullying rather than diplomacy which is unpleasant to see.
Thirdly which international umpire is going to stick his neck out now and make a difficult decision which is likely to be controversial and could result in them being removed from the international panel? It puts massive pressure on umpires now to be cautious and acquiescent which is a direct threat to their integrity and independence.
Finally it was a little rich don’t you think to find the Australians, via captain Ponting, to be the ones running to the match referee and complaining about offensive comments. Jeez these are the guys who virtually invented the practice of sledging, and even if they didn’t, they certainly turned it into an art form. Former captain Waugh used to brag that it was all part of the Australian’s armoury intended to bring about the mental disintegration of the opposition. Those were his actual words. Boy they’ve dished it out over the years. Some of it funny and cutting but some of it vilely offensive, though not necessarily racist. But is whispering choo choo to Chris Cairns following the death of his sister in a train accident, less or more hurtful? By all accounts whatever was said to Symonds he responded with a choice mouthful of his own and let’s not forget he’d admitted the day before to conning the umpire into not giving him out when he actually was and he laughed about it at the post match press conference. What goes around….
So I feel no massive sympathy for the Australians and Symonds in particular although the word, if used, was certainly unacceptable and I’d have far more respect for Harbhajan if he’d come out and said he was guilty of having said something massively unfortunate in the heat of the moment and bitterly regretted it and apologised unreservedly. I don’t buy his protestations of absolute innocence and I wish his management team had advised him accordingly. I think it might have taken the heat out of the situation. He may have received a one match ban and then it’d be over. By backing their player unreservedly like this I’m reminded of another set of monkeys – those who see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. Now we have a stand-off which could harm cricket enormously. Someone needs to act with grace and intelligence but there’s not much evidence of it from any side I’m sorry to say.