This week at the Sydney Cricket Ground Indian fast bowler Mohammed Siraj set the standard Australia must follow and adopt when it comes to racism.
Subject to racist abuse, he showed great courage to pause the game – to highlight the fact of this abuse, and that it must be regarded as utterly unacceptable.
It’s pleasing to see a strong statement in response from Cricket Australia, and that those apparently responsible for the abuse were removed from the stadium and their conduct is under investigation.
All this is important, but it can’t be the end of the story.
We should pay close attention to the comments of Siraj’s teammates, who made it clear that this was far from an isolated incident in their experience playing here.
“Unless and until it is dealt with, people don’t find the reason to look at it in a different way,” said star off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin.
“In fact I was quite surprised that some sections of the crowd continuously did it and there were no mates around them to pull them up for it.
“It definitely had to be dealt with. Disappointing is a very, very mild word, I must say.”
The standard we walk past is the standard we accept.
Although only a small minority in the crowd engaged in racist abuse, the majority’s silence is something we must reflect on.
It enables racism to continue to damage people, and diminish us all.
We must strive for the courage Mohammed Siraj displayed in the face of racism and call it out, whenever we see it, recognising that silence can look a lot like acquiescence.
Where it persists, we should draw attention to racist conduct, and demand zero tolerance of it.
Instead of walking past, to stand alongside people singled out because of who they are.
To take a knee, as cricketers did before Monday’s Big Bash League match.
Queensland captain Usman Khawaja recalls hearing derogatory jokes being told about Indigenous people when he first arrived in Queensland, which he says had “become the norm” within the squad environment.
Khawaja is now in Cricket Australia’s working group, doing important work aimed at increasing cultural diversity in Australian cricket.
Racism just isn’t cricket, but nor is racism confined to cricket.
Nicky Winmar, Michael Long and Adam Goodes, three of AFL’s greatest Indigenous players, were all subjected to shocking racial abuse on and off the football field at the peak of their powers.
Last year, Cathy Freeman, one of Australia’s greatest track athletes, spoke movingly about the discrimination and racism she experienced as a young athlete.
Also read: COVID-19 breaches by Indian cricketers
It’s sometimes said that sport is a mirror to society, that waves of change in sport reflect underlying trends in society.
Racism in the stadium is reflective of racism at the pub or in the lounge room. Or in the job interview, or in politics.
It’s clear that racism is on the rise around globe and in Australia.
This is why Labor has been calling for the implementation of a national anti-racism strategy, one that has a zero-tolerance approach to racism front and centre.
Tackling racism matters, because racism is damaging to individuals and corrosive of our society.
Treating people equally and without discrimination matters to all of us.
Every time someone publicly hurls racist abuse this suggests, wrongly, that not everyone belongs.
Every time this happens without condemnation this suggests, equally wrongly, that this conduct is acceptable. This has awful consequences too.
Our actions as individuals matter, but fighting racism is a collective responsibility.
The world’s most successful multicultural nation has a profound obligation to take steps to ensure that every one of us is treated equally.
When our acting Prime Minister continues to compare the Black Lives Matter protests to last week’s armed insurrection at the US Congress, it’s clear we’ve got a lot of work to do in this respect.
If Cricket Australia can adopt a zero-tolerance approach to racist conduct, so can Australia.
This piece was first published in The New Daily on Wednesday, 13 January 2021.
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