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An apology to Andrew Symonds
by Suresh Menon
Oct 22, 2007
It would have been nice to read that the captain of the Indian cricket team or the President of its Board of Control had apologised to Andrew Symonds over the racist behaviour of some Indian fans. It doesn’t take a lot of effort. After all, Symonds himself has said in an interview how he has had “doctors, bankers and local businessmen” who kept calling him up in his hotel room “desperate to apologise for what has transpired over the past week.”

It need not have been an ‘official’ apology even, just a friendly one, to remind Symonds that those making the rude gestures do not represent the country, and are merely misguided individuals. It would have been nice to have caught the wave early, and put an end to it in Vadodara before it traveled to Mumbai. It would have been nice to have publicly condemned it so that everyone, including the Australian players, realised that sensible Indians are embarrassed by it and want to have no part of it.

Instead, we pretended that it was a cultural misunderstanding. An official went on record to state that the Indians were praying to Hanuman, the monkey-god, for strength to beat the Australians. The Board president said it was a language thing, and that he himself did not understand all of India’s languages. With each artificial justification, we moved further and further away from a common sense approach to the problem, and allowed it to gather momentum.

It is one thing to try and take on the Australians in their patented game of sledging, and quite another to ignore racism which has no place in sport (or anywhere else). To mistake one for the other, and place them on the same level of gamesmanship is both uncultured and wrong. Players sledging on the field is a problem, and one that the umpires have to deal with. Spectators raining racial abuse on the players is a different problem, and one that the cricket board has to deal with. Both the umpires and the board failed in their duty, and it is to Symond’s credit that he did not lodge an official protest and embarrass the Indian board.

Part of the problem is that the Indian police and security agents do not know how to handle it. They have no brief. And in any case they sit watching the action in the middle, with their backs to the crowd which is where the taunts emerge from. They have to be told to sit facing the crowd and not look on cricket match duty as a freebie.

The argument that the perpetrators are simple folk and do not understand the racial import of their gestures fell flat once the photograph of the apes in the crowd was published by an Australian photographer. It showed upwardly mobile men who probably went to good schools and colleges and have traveled abroad. It was no accident. The insult was borrowed from the universal language of such insults, now brought to our drawing rooms every week by the live coverage of the English premier league soccer.

Clearly neither the Board nor the Indian players support such behaviour. It would have been nice, therefore, for the skipper M S Dhoni or a Board official to have taken the initiative to put an arm around Symonds and said, “Sorry, mate,” while the authorities took action against those who were bringing Indian multiculturalism into disrepute.

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