London: Umpire Darrell Hair believes racial discrimination was behind the decision by the International Cricket Council (ICC) to ban him from officiating in top-level matches.
Hair, who is white, is suing the ICC over the decision to remove him from the elite umpires list. The case, at an employment tribunal in central London, began on Monday. ICC denies the accusation.
The Australian umpire was banned from top-level matches in November because of his conduct during a Test between Pakistan and England in August 2006 at The Oval that led to the first forfeit in Test cricket's 129-year history.
Meetings were then held in the locker rooms between the umpires, ICC officials and the Pakistan team, Hair told the tribunal.
Hair said he left a meeting after Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul Haq made what he thought was an offensive gesture. Hair also said he told ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed that umpires did not have the power to restart a match once it was declared over.
"In my opinion, these meetings were instituted to put the blame for the match being abandoned squarely on my shoulders," Hair said.
Hair said he believed the ICC had also discriminated against him when he was ignored for Sri Lanka Test matches for eight years after no-balling spinner Muttiah Muralitharan for his bowling action in a Test match in 1995.
"The policy of not appointing me for Sri Lankan matches, I believe, was racially motivated," Hair said.
Hair's lawyer, Robert Griffiths, said the ICC was pressured to ban Hair - but not his fellow umpire Billy Doctrove - by its Asian member countries.
Doctrove is black.
"Darrell Hair's case is that he was treated the way he was because the ICC bowed to the racially discriminatory pressure brought to bear on it by the Asian bloc," Griffiths said. "That is the only possible explanation for what happened."
Griffiths said Pakistan and India in particular did not want Hair to continue as a top-level umpire after The Oval forfeit.
Hair had accused Pakistan of ball tampering. When Pakistan initially refused to take the field after a break, Hair and Doctrove awarded the forfeit.
A month afterward, the ICC cleared Pakistan of ball tampering, but banned captain Inzamam-ul Haq for four One-Day matches for bringing the game into disrepute.
Doctrove, a Dominican who has largely escaped the ensuing controversy, took several months off before returning to action during Pakistan's Test series in South Africa in January. The Oval test was Doctrove's ninth as a Test umpire.
Griffiths said Hair had been singled out.
"A fundamental issue is whether this was done to save Pakistan's reputation and/or to teach a white Australian umpire a lesson," Griffiths said.
Parts of the tape recording and transcript of the ICC meeting when Hair was banned were missing, Griffiths said.
"Whether by accident or design, there is no record of this most critical aspect of the meeting," Griffiths said. "Is this cricket's Watergate? Hairgate?"
Hair has umpired 76 Tests - but none since The Oval match - and 135 One-Day matches, the last one between Ireland and Scotland in July.
ICC lawyer Michael Beloff denied Hair's claim of racism.
"In cricketing terms, Mr. Hair ran himself out," Beloff said. "He contrived a situation without precedent in the annals of cricket - for the first time in 129 years, a match was decided not by the skill of the winning team but by an official's decision."
Beloff said Hair was banned because of his behavior at The Oval test.
"Exactly the same decision would have been reached had Mr. Hair been black or brown or even green," Beloff said.
ICC president Ray Mali also denied the racism claims before attending the hearing.
"We are here today because we are an organization that believes in fairness, justice and equality," Mali said. "We believe racism was never an issue in this matter."
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