Friday, 8 August 2014

Column 23, 2014 – Mixing with politics

Printed in The Cricket Paper issue 95, Friday August 8, 2014.
[Full text below]

On the second day of the third Test at Southampton, Moeen Ali wore two wristbands. One said “Save Gaza”, the other said “Free Palestine”.

I happened to be at The Ageas Bowl that day, and at one point Mo was fielding not 10 yards from us. You would never have noticed the wristbands. But the cameras did.

The ECB defended his right to wear them, saying his stance was “humanitarian, not political.” This seems reasonable. Ali is Muslim, but not Palestinian. Born in Birmingham, he’s of Pakistani descent.

The ICC saw it differently. Its code prohibits players from “conveying messages which relate to political, religious or racial activities or causes”, and Ali was warned by match referee David Boon (yes, he of the 52 beers on the plane, now in a rather more sober capacity,) not to wear them again. He is free to express his views on such causes away from cricket, but is not permitted to do so on the field of play. Again this seems reasonable.

Then the very next day, the England team – including Moeen – wore Help for Heroes logos on their shirts to commemorate of the 100th anniversary of WW1. Help for Heroes does terrific work, raising a great deal of money and awareness to help wounded British veterans of recent and current conflicts. But surely no one would pretend it isn’t political. Anything involving the human fallout of nations in armed conflict is by definition political.

Twitter got very aerated. The media’s punchier elements latched on to the apparent hypocrisy. The old arguments about how “sport and politics should never mix” came trundling out.

Sport and politics have always mixed, whether or not they should. In cricket, the Basil D’Oliveira affair played no small part in bringing apartheid to world-wide public attention, and lit the touch paper for South Africa’s exile from international sport that helped end the regime.

More recently, Andy Flower and Henry Olonga risked their lives and guaranteed their own exile from their homeland, wearing black armbands mourning “The death of democracy” in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe during the opening match of the 2003 Cricket World Cup.

Would these incidents have been allowed under today’s rules?

But with hindsight, would anyone rather they hadn’t happened?

Sport at all levels is a great arena for doing good. If you play cricket, chances are you’ll have played in your fair share of charity matches.

In the international game, the McGrath Foundation Pink Test in Sydney, fighting breast cancer in memory of Glenn’s late wife Jane, has in a short time become a cricketing institution. The Lord’s Taveners, A Chance to Shine: it’s everywhere.

Cricket must continue to do its bit to support and draw attention to worthy causes, but there will always be fine lines to be drawn. I do not envy those who must draw them, but the key to doing so must surely be consistency.

- ends 482 words -

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