The recent ‘racist’ controversy involving Australian cricketer Andrew Symmonds is a sterling example of someone going overboard without realizing what it amounts to.

To begin with let’s take Chennai as an example – in the ‘70s and ‘80s – a venue which is now considered as one of the real ‘sporting’ centres in the country – I had seen spectators throw oranges on foreign cricketers who used to guard the ‘third man’ area – near the Wallajah Road end.  Having said that who can forget the famous gesture of the Chennai crowd when, in 1999, Wasim Akram and his men set out on a lap of honour on the hallowed Chepauk turf after beating India by 12 runs in a nail-biting Test match that is won and lost in four days?

In the present controversy Andrew Symmonds could have handled the matter differently. For example if he had returned the gesture to the crowd – who knows the outcome would have been something different and it would have been great television because venue after venue he would have been encouraged to do monkey gesture and definitely he would have been the darling of the crowd and a huge television star! It’s true that the Australian cricketers are here to play cricket and win matches rather than act as monkeys and scoring points over the crowd.

Is it not foolish on the part of the BCCI to deny the entire incident when it first happened at Vadodara? Ratnakar Shetty, who is also the BCCI’s Chief Administrative Officer, asks for proof of the incident, “they are chanting and shouting all the time. It is just media speculation, that is more hype. Unless there is some proof of the incident, how can you pick on it?” He added “I was present in Vadodara during the match, and the noise from the crowd was deafening. I don’t understand how you could make out monkey noises from all that. What is this monkey noise, anyway? Or Mr Andrew Symonds should report to us exactly what was said to him. Then, it makes sense. But he has not done that, either.”

In the melee everyone forgot to take note of Symmonds’s statement to an Australian newspaper when he said, “You have to be pretty thick-skinned to survive in the Australian dressing room, let alone out on the paddock” and so why didn’t ICC take this statement seriously and ask Cricket Australia for explanation?  Instead ICC sent a letter to the BCCI, citing media reports, asking it to explain the whole incident? 

This brings into focus a book called “Obstacle Race: Aborigines in Sport” by Colin Tatz (published by UNSW Press, 1995) wherein he examines how a racist society like Australia which worships sport handles successful Aboriginal sports persons. The adulation they receive is genuine, but as Charles Perkins (former head of the old Department of Aboriginal Affairs and South Australian representative soccer player) puts it, Aboriginal stars are “accepted as sports heroes but not as people”.

This is not to justify the racism in any form or shape – racism is bad and should be condemned anywhere.  The purpose of this article is to explain how  the whole issue could have been dealt.  Mark Waugh who toured India several times, said such taunts were part of the game. “What is Symonds complaining about — monkey noises?” he said during a TV programme.   “It didn’t worry me. I don’t know if we are getting a bit precious here, really,” he said.

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