Just as it is not cricket when racism invades the pitch, it isn’t cricket either when the R word creeps into the stands. The flap over Australian cricketer Andrew Symonds being subjected to racist taunts by sections of the crowd in Vadodara and Mumbai underlines this. The only non-white, Afro-Caribbean member of the Australian side, Mr Symonds had seemed unstoppable on the pitch throughout the Future Cup ODI series, choosing to let his explosive batting do most of the talking. But in the last two ODIs in Vadodara and Mumbai, spectators heckled him, calling him a monkey and taunting him with ape-like motions. It goes to Symonds’s credit that he remained unflappable in the face of such provocative crowd behaviour and let the team management handle it without lodging an official complaint.
Never mind if the BCCI’s response left much to be desired, the way it initially tried to paper over the issue. Board officials even suggested that the Australians misunderstood the crowd’s gestures. Such hostility wasn’t totally unexpected from the Wankhede crowd that booed hometown star, Sachin Tendulkar, during the Test against England in April last year. But that’s still no excuse for the kind of boorishness on display during the ODI. Any more abuse would probably put the stadium’s status as an international venue in doubt, given the ICC’s policy of stripping offending grounds of their elite status. Indian fans should acknowledge that racism by any other name is still racism and it isn’t just about caucasians mocking coloured people. Wasn’t the great New Zealand all rounder Sir Richard Hadlee insulted and teased in Australia every time he toured?
Cricket is not quite bridge and no one minds spectators making a bit of noise. But when people start making racist — or, for that matter, religion-based — comments they cross the limits of acceptable behaviour. As with any sport, there should be zero-tolerance for racism in cricket and the BCCI would do well to ensure better crowd control, perhaps with the help of cameras to spot and eject offenders.