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Tokenism and Empty Gestures — Can Our Indian Men's Cricketers Not Do Better?

Why has the Indian team not taken a stand against the communal trolling aimed at Mohammad Shami?

Updated
Sports
4 min read
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What a week it’s been right?

The Indian men's cricket team lost to Pakistan in an ICC World Cup for the first time ever but it’s not really been about the match, or the result of that match, that we've been talking about since, has it?

After the defeat, Mohammad Shami became the target of vicious online abuse aimed at his religion. The same Indian team that took a knee before the Pakistan game to support the Black Lives Matter movement against racism, has continued to stay mum on the attack on their own teammate.

You understand the level of hypocrisy of their empty gesture of “taking a stand” when at the same World Cup, a Quinton de Kock is also instructed by his cricket board to take the knee in support of the movement and he refuses to do so because he says he doesn't understand why he had to prove his stand against racism with a gesture.

You see the problem there, right?

On one side, we have an Indian team that wants to look right by taking a stand that Virat Kohli himself has admitted was a decision made for them 'by the management'. As in, the Indian players took the knee – an entire year after cricketers across the world have been taking the knee during cricket matches – and even then, the most influential and powerful cricketers in the world are now actually telling us that they made just that simple gesture at the behest of their cricket board.

On the other hand, Quinton de Kock too was instructed by his board to make that same tribute in South Africa's T20 WC opener, but he refused and withdrew his name from the match. The consequences of that move will be many, including the fact that South Africa lost the match to Australia, but Quinton has since clarified his stand and said, “If I was racist, I could have easily taken the knee and lied, which is wrong, and doesn’t build a better society.”

Meaning, your gestures are not what count. Your actions do.

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Just to mention, no way here am I indicating that our Indian cricketers are racist, of course I'm not saying that.

But as far as taking a stand on social issues goes, why make empty gestures? If you take a stand against racism for the TV cameras, why is it that you can't take a stand against the communal attack against your own teammate? For somebody who is part of your own dressing room, somebody you spend months on tour with.

How difficult can framing a tweet be? I mean, if you’re looking for a spine or an example, Indian hockey captain Rani Rampal minced no words earlier this year when she bit out at those who attacked her teammate Vandana Katariya based on her caste after the Indian team lost the semi-final at the Olympics.

England football captain Harry Kane went a step further and fired a straight warning to those who racially attacked his teammates after their loss in the final of Euro 2020.

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Simple, wasn't it? Stood up for his team, led from the front and took a stand.

Just easy, wasn't it?

Easy of course it is also for me to write about what our cricketers did do and didn't do by not taking a stand against everything Mohammed Shami went through in the last few days. But the problem is not just restricted to those 11 players who represent India or the 15 in the dressing room.

The problem is also the system we’ve allowed to flourish around us, where a Mohammad Shami becomes the heartbeat of the nation when he bowls a magical 4/35 against Pakistan at the 2015 ICC World Cup. But that same Shami has one off day – and that too along with the rest of the Indian team – there are people hurling every kind of slur at him. From calling him a Pakistani plant, and every possible terrible thing that you can call your own countryman.

I mean he's a cricketer, if you actually want to hurt the guy, comment on his bowling action, his form, his fitness rather than commenting on his community, which is something that will only leave him and the rest of us disappointed.

Think about it, when was an Indian cricketer ever selected to represent India based on his caste or his religion?

Cricketers are selected because they are good cricketers, they're good bowlers, they're good batters, they have discipline for the game.

That's what they are there to represent us for. To represent India using their sporting acumen. So why not comment on that instead of dragging a facet of their life, that in no way is related to the sport or the result of a match?

But then there are some outliers in the world of cricket itself as well. People who forget what the game actually means and decide to drag religion into it. Take Waqar Younis for example, the former Pakistani fast bowler, former Pakistani captain and until recently he was the coach of the Pakistani team as well. You would think, for him, the moment his team beat India for the first time in a men's ICC World Cup match would be one of celebration but instead, according to him, the moment that touched him the most was when a Pakistani player offered namaz in front of his Indian contemporaries during the match.

Waqar though has apologised since but his bigoted comment is just one among many things that have happened in the last week. A lot that we understand, a lot that we don't.

But just remember, for every Waqar Younis out there there is a Quinton de Kock, there's a Michael Holding, and there is a Darren Sammy to always help us remember to fight the good fight.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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