It’s now OK to fail Tebbit’s infamous cricket ‘test’

Updated on Jun 02, 2019 02:42 PM IST

Tebbit proposed it as a test of loyalty of immigrants and their degree of assimilation in British society, suggesting that they should rather support England and not India or the countries from where they or their parents migrated.

Cricket has never been just a game, particularly in post-colonial countries such as India.(AFP File Photo)
Cricket has never been just a game, particularly in post-colonial countries such as India.(AFP File Photo)
Hindustan Times, London | By

For nearly 30 years, the ‘Tebbit cricket test’ was often mentioned in UK’s ever-charged immigration debate, but now an Indian-origin member of the House of Lords has declared that it is outdated: it is fine to be a British Indian and support India against England.

Simply put, the ‘test’ devised in 1990 by Tory grandee Norman Tebbit, member of the House of Lords, asks: ‘When England play India, which team do Britons of Indian or Afro-Caribbean origin, who were born and grew up here, support or should support?’

Tebbit proposed it as a test of loyalty of immigrants and their degree of assimilation in British society, suggesting that they should rather support England and not India or the countries from where they or their parents migrated.

Also Read | Failing the ‘Tebbit test’ again and again

But cricket has never been just a game, particularly in post-colonial countries such as India. The situation becomes complex when there is something of tables being turned, with a large population of Indian origin in the UK and India now a superpower in cricket.

Jitesh Gadhia, the Uganda-born Conservative member of the House of Lords, wrote in the Sunday Times: “The so-called Tebbit Test, asking immigrants to choose between their old and new countries, now seems outdated, as people are increasingly comfortable with multiple identities.”

“When Tebbit’s comment was made in 1990, it was an era when loyalties were still questioned and social integration less advanced. We know that diaspora communities are among the most patriotic British citizens — and equally proud of their heritage.”

Gadhia’s comments come in the context of reports that 41 per cent tickets of the ongoing World Cup have been bought by supporters of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, mostly British Asians, but also many who have travelled from the sub-continent.

Colonial history and identity politics have always mixed with passion when India play England, when encounters become occasions to revive the Indian roots of generations that mostly celebrate their British and Indian identities.

Says sports writer Mihir Bose: “It shows more confidence in the Indian community of their roots. When I came here nearly 50 years ago, India was a country of poverty, it needed British aid, there was a colonial hangover and memories of the Raj lingered”.

“It is a more confident India now, and this gets reflected in the increasingly vocal and visual support for the Indian team whenever it tours or plays England. Mind you, India is not a great sporting nation, so it celebrates achievements in cricket all the more”, he added.

It was in April 1990 that the Los Angeles Times published an interview with Tebbit, who questioned the loyalties of Asian immigrants. Using the example of cricket, he declared: “A large proportion of Britain’s Asian population fail to pass the cricket test. Which side do they cheer for? It’s an interesting test. Are you still harking back to where you came from or where you are?”

His comments led to some furore as Asian leaders declared them hurtful and disgraceful. Labour MP Jeff Rooker called for Tebbit to be prosecuted for inciting racial hatred, while Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown wanted Margaret Thatcher to condemn the remarks.

Tebbit was not really censured by the party, but his test has since become a benchmark to talk – even if lightheartedly – about race and identity politics in multicultural Britain. On many courses in UK universities, it is invariably cited in courses on race, identity and colonial history.

As globalisation of the media – most Indian television channels are available in Britain – ensures that identities are reinforced and sustained, sub-continental rivalry in cricket and much else is replicated in the large South Asian diaspora here.

The situation is not always seamless; for example, when cricketers of Indian origin such as Ravi Bopara and Monty Panesar turn out for England against India. Bopara was barracked as a traitor during the 2013 India-England Champions Trophy final in Edgbaston.

In 2012, when Spain won the European Football championship, the then deputy prime minister Nick Clegg admitted his children would fail the Tebbit test, because their mother, Miriam, is Spanish.

“I’m not sure if my children who were wearing their Spanish football kit, given to them by Miriam, would have passed the Norman Tebbit cricket test”, Clegg said at the time.

Get Latest World Newsalong with Latest Newsfrom Indiaat Hindustan Times.
SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Prasun Sonwalkar was Editor (UK & Europe), Hindustan Times. During more than three decades, he held senior positions on the Desk, besides reporting from India’s north-east and other states, including a decade covering politics from New Delhi. He has been reporting from UK and Europe since 1999.

SHARE
Story Saved
×
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
My Offers
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Monday, December 05, 2022
Start 15 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now
Register Free and get Exciting Deals