Ollie Robinson ban shows fans can look back in anger
Though the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) is under pressure after being caught out by Ollie Robinson’s sexist and racial tweets from eight years ago, suspension of the pacer despite an impressive Test debut has been largely welcomed as inevitable. This despite British prime minister Boris Johnson’s reported criticism of ECB’s firm action with opinion divided on political lines.
The probe launched into Robinson’s case though looks unlikely to bring about closure; it could instead lead to more uncomfortable truths. ECB is reportedly investigating the Twitter posts of another current England player made when he was 16. Though some argue it may not be fair to dig up distant past, ECB has said it would adopt a “zero tolerance policy” as international athletes are youth icons.
This means, social media, seen as empowering elite athletes to directly reach out to millions of their fans, debate and engage now appears a double-edged tool. India off-spinner R Ashwin pointed that out in his tweet on Tuesday to show empathy with Robinson.
Athletes have also used social media effectively to call out racism, harassment and the unfair treatment of women athletes. The ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests drew worldwide attention due to social media. Tennis superstar Naomi Osaka too used social media to announce her boycott of mandatory media conferences at the French Open. The manner of questioning, she said, caused mental health issues. It led to her exit from the tournament after being warned of fines and expulsion.
The Robinson case has drawn fresh focus on complaints that English cricket is not doing enough to end racist behaviour at an institutional level, something ECB denies. It won’t be comfortable though that Craig Overton, the Somerset bowling all-rounder in the squad for the second Test against New Zealand and seen an ideal replacement for Robinson, has an unpalatable past.
The Guardian has reported that Overton avoided a Level 3 disciplinary charge for “language that vilifies another person on the basis of race or national origin” in 2015 after he was heard telling Sussex’s Pakistan-born batsman Ashar Zaidi to “go back to your own fu..ing country” during a match.
The Cricket Discipline Commission decided it was only a Level 1 offence. Overton still received a two-match ban only due to accumulated points on his record, it reported. Overton though said in an interview to Wisden last week, “I don’t believe I said it.”
The second Test against New Zealand starts on Thursday and off-spinner Dom Bess has been added to it.
England head coach, Chris Silverwood, when asked about Overton’s selection, was quoted as saying by Guardian: “If Craig plays, we will deal with that when we get there.” That Overton made his Test debut after the incident—he has played four Tests from 2017—leaves ECB in an awkward spot.
What all this means is players would be very sensitive about social media posts, anxious what they posted in the past and fearful it can be dredged up once they become popular. Ashwin’s tweet says players from other national cricket teams too are watching developments around Robinson closely.
Former India batsman, Wasim Jaffer, tweeted on Tuesday while tagging Ashwin’s message: “I am just glad I found Twitter after I retired,” with a mouth zipped emoji. Another Jaffer tongue-in-cheek tweet went: “I knew England would go back to the drawing board, didn’t think it’d be this one though” with a boy writing a message on a white board: “the best time to delete this tweet was immediately after sending it, the second best time is now.”
US tennis player Tennys Sandgren broke into the ATP top 50 in rankings after reaching the 2018 Australian Open but had to wipe clean his social media postings and apologise after the media highlighted his previous alt-right posts. Sandgren, now 29, apologised for past social media activities that included a post from 2012 in which he said a visit to a gay club had left his “eyes bleeding”. Now world No. 66, Sandgren has vowed to “do better moving forward”.
Sandgren has company. Antoine Griezmann had to retract his 2017 post posing as a black basketball player after the France footballer was accused of racial stereotyping. Last December, Pablo Matera was stripped off the captaincy of the Argentina rugby team for social media posts made between 2011 and 2013.
Robinson’s posts too were from 2012 and 2013 and like Sandgren and Griezmann, he has apologised. But with ECB’s monitoring of player behaviour under fire --- from former England captains Michael Vaughan and Nasser Hussain, among others --- a rap on the knuckle in a multi-cultural society might not be seen as the right message.