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The Racism Social Media Storm That Has Hit English Cricket & Is Threatening To Spiral Out of Control

By: Nikhil Narain

Last Updated: June 09, 2021, 14:48 IST

Ollie Robinson (AFP Photo)

Ollie Robinson (AFP Photo)

The Oliver Robinson controversy has snowballed out of proportion and created a social media storm that has the potential to derail England cricket. Several former players and pundits and even the British Prime Minister has joined the controversy which does not seem to end as more historical tweets with a racist slur involving other big players make headlines all over social media.

Ollie Robinson would not have imagined his world coming down in a matter of days after making an impressive debut for England in the series opener at Lord’s. But as it turned out, in this unforgiving world of social media which judges you not only for what you stand for today but might have said in the distant past, Robinson was suspended from all international cricket for racist tweets he had posted in 2012 and 2013. Little did he know that his posts as a teenager, when his worldly views on sensitive subjects might still be immature, would haunt him eight to nine years after just when he was making his mark on the big stage. Robinson’s suspension has snowballed into a massive controversy in England with a fresh set of historical racist and sexist comments alleged to some of the biggest superstars in the country appearing all over social media.

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How It All Started?

On Day 1 of the Lord’s Test between England and New Zealand, historical tweets emerged all over social media in which Robinson – the teenager – had made derogatory remarks about Muslims, people of an Asian heritage and women. Ironically, before start of play on the 2nd of June, Wednesday, both the teams had lined up for a Moment of Unity’ designed to show their opposition to discrimination, with England wearing T-shirts stating ‘Cricket is a game for everyone’.

It remains unclear as to who circulated these tweets on social media. Robinson’s Twitter handle is currently suspended.

There were three controversial tweets posted by Robinson back in 2012 and 2013:

“My new Muslim friend is the bomb”

“I wonder if Asian people put smileys like this ¦) #racist”

“Guy next to me on the train definitely has Ebola.”

Robinson immediately apologised for his posts and made a statement at the close of play on Day 1 stating that he was “embarrassed” and “ashamed” by the posts.

“”I am sorry, and I have certainly learned my lesson today. I want to make it clear that I’m not racist and I’m not sexist,” said Robinson.

The Reactions

Joe Root

The England captain Joe Root expressed disbelief at the comments and added (before the suspension) that Robinson had shown a “lot of remorse” that was “very genuine”.

Root added, “We can look back about how this could have been handled better, but the fact is it shouldn’t have happened. And if we continue to keep trying to better the game right now, then in years to come this shouldn’t be an issue.”

James Anderson

The highest wicket-taker amongst pace bowlers in the world stated that the England team has accepted Robinson’s apology and stand behind him.

“He stood up in front of the group and apologised and you could see how sincere he was and upset he was, and I think as a group we appreciate that he is a different person now. He’s done a lot of maturing and growing since then, and he’s got the full support of the team,” quoted Anderson.

Chris Silverwood, England Head Coach

“It was disappointing for us as a group. It is a stark reminder of the responsibilities we hold in the positions we are in. Obviously there is absolutely no place in this game for any form of discrimination.”

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The ECB have taken a tough stand on the issue and suspended Robinson pending a detailed investigation into the matter. The ECB CEO Tom Harrison expressed disappointment over the tweets.

“I do not have the words to express how disappointed I am that an England Men’s player has chosen to write tweets of this nature, however long ago that might have been.
Any person reading those words, particularly a woman or person of colour, would take away an image of cricket and cricketers that is completely unacceptable. We are better than this. We have a zero-tolerance stance to any form of discrimination and there are rules in place that handle conduct of this nature. We will initiate a full investigation as part of our disciplinary process,” added Harrison.

Michael Vaughan

Former England captain and outspoken commentator Michael Vaughan has lashed out at the ECB for not doing a thorough background check on Robinson before lining him up for an international debut.

“A few weeks ago, surely England would have known that Ollie Robinson was in their thoughts. You have to go through everything. These days on Twitter, social media it’s all there for everyone to see. He tweeted what he had tweeted in 2012. Yes, he was 18 but I do find that staggering that the ECB with everything, the resources that they have in their operation, they don’t go through everything about every player that you pick just to make sure you have got everything covered,” stated Vaughan.

Nasser Hussain

Nasser Hussain added that the Robinson fiasco was a reminder and a warning to the players on how to conduct themselves on social media.

“If you are going to wear T-shirts about online hate and online abuse and sexism and racism, then you can’t be doing this; it’s just not good enough, it’s just not on. But I also think we are probably a bit of a cruel society if we don’t realise that an 18-year-old does make mistakes and he has made mistakes and he’s made it horribly wrong and he’s fronted up..it does not make it right in any way; I’ve read the tweets, I’ve seen the tweets, they are horrible.”

Boris Johnson, The British Prime Minister

The biggest support for Robinson, interestingly, came from the highest quarters in England from none other than the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. Johnson echoed the same sentiment as Cultural Secretary, Oliver Dowden who stated that while the comments made by Robinson were highly condemnable they were also made in the past when he was a teenager and the punishment to suspend the fast bowler was a very harsh one by the ECB.

“Ollie Robinson’s tweets were offensive and wrong. They are also a decade old and written by a teenager. The teenager is now a man and has rightly apologised. The ECB has gone over the top by suspending him and should think again,” tweeted Oliver Dowden.

Furthermore, a spokesperson for Mr Johnson said: “The PM is supportive of Oliver Dowden’s comments. As Dowden set out, these were comments made more than a decade ago written by someone as a teenager and for which they’ve rightly apologised.”

David Gower

Former England great, David Gower was one of the few experts and former cricketers who backed the stance of the Prime Minister and the Cultural Secretary.

“The ECB should say ‘let’s learn from this’ and make him do the equivalent of community service. He should go out there among county cricketers and spread the word that social media shouldn’t be abused,” quoted Gower.

Michael Carberry

Former England international, Michael Carberry wasn’t so forgiving as Gower. He stated that if it were left to him Robinson would not be playing Test cricket again.

“I don’t believe this is a problem where you can rehabilitate someone. Robinson spoke about educating himself, but what is he talking about? I would be very interested to know,” said Carberry.

Brad Hogg

Robinson has also received support from former Australia left-arm spinner, Brad Hogg who has stated that the decision to suspend Robinson for some remarks he made when he was a teenager was extremely harsh.

“Punishing a guy for regrettable naive tweets from 10 years ago at the age of 18 is extremely harsh on Ollie Robinson. He has had his troubles. His debut should be a celebration of how he has turned his life around in the last 5 years. People change and grow.”

R Ashwin

Robinson also received support from unexpected quarters – from none other than Indian spin genius R Ashwin.

“I can understand the negative sentiments towards what #OllieRobinson did years ago, but I do feel genuinely sorry for him being suspended after an impressive start to his test career. This suspension is a strong indication of what the future holds in this social media Gen.,” quoted Ashwin.

Michael Holding

Michael Holding backed the ECB’s decision to suspend Robinson but also had a sympathetic view of the whole situation.

“(It was) eight, nine years ago. Can the ECB then find out please, if beyond that time, Robinson has kept on behaving like that, saying things like that, tweeting things like that? If he has done something like that nine years ago, and since then he has learnt and he has done nothing like that and he has changed his ways in recent years, then I don’t think you should come down too hard on him,” stated Holding

Farokh Engineer

Former India wicket-keeper batsman Farokh Engineer expressed disbelief over the comments of Boris Johnson.

“I am reading in the papers about Boris Johnson. I think it is absolute rubbish for a prime minister to lend his name to such a statement. Punish the fellow (Robinson). I think the ECB has done absolutely the right thing by suspending him. He has committed an error of judgement, he should pay for it. It will be a deterrent.”

Engineer added that the tweets were made by Robinson when he was 18 and that is an age where one expects individuals to be responsible and accountable.

“It is a real shame when you say he was a youngster who was 18 (when he tweeted). It is an age at which an individual is responsible. If they (cricketers) can get away with it, then things would be worse. People will make all sorts of comments against us (Asians). It has to be nipped in the bud. To talk about Asians like that in such a context or make other comments reflects on the upbringing,” added Engineer.

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Other English Players In The Dock

James Anderson

Several other English superstars have been drawn in the social media racism storm in the last few days – and this includes the most successful fast bowler in Test cricket history!

James Anderson deleted a tweet he posted in 2010 directed at team-mate Stuart Broad in which he compared him to a Lesbian.

“I saw Broady’s new haircut for the first time today. Not sure about it. Thought he looked like a 15-year old lesbian,” tweeted Anderson in 2010.

Anderson defended himself by stating that the tweet was from the past and he had changed as a person.

“For me it’s 10 or 11 years ago, I’ve certainly changed as a person, And I think that’s the difficulty – things do change, you do make mistakes. If there are any tweets from years ago, we do have to look at that, learn from it and be better in the future, try and make sure we know it’s unacceptable to use these sorts of phrases and language,” Anderson said.

Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler 

England’s limited-overs’ captain, Eoin Morgan and one of their greatest ODI batsmen, Jos Buttler are under investigation from the ECB, for mocking the Indians and their elocution of English.

In what stinks of class superiority, Buttler tweeted a congratulatory message for Alex Hales (after a recorded a hundred in a match) and wrote, “much beauty batting you are on fire, sir.”

“josbuttler Sir, you play very good Opening batting,” tweeted McCullum whereas Morgan added, “Sir you’are my favourite batsman.”
Meanwhile Dom Bess has also deactivated his twitter account after the Ollie Robinson controversy. It also came in the news that the ECB are investigating another England cricketer for historical racist posts and it is being speculated that Bess could be in trouble. He was recently named in the squad for the second Test against New Zealand which gets underway at Edgbaston from tomorrow.

Racism is a big issue in England. Recently all hell broke loose when Prince Harry and Meghan Markle stated that racism was alive and kicking in the Royal Family. As far as the Oliver Robinson investigation goes, the ECB must determine whether the fast bowler was contracted at the time of the tweets, which cover a period when he left Kent and joined Yorkshire. If he did not have a contract, the investigation will be carried out by the ECB. If Robinson had a county contract at the time, the Cricket Discipline Commission, which is independent of the ECB, will carry out the investigation.

Some turbulent times lie ahead for England in the summer.

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first published:June 09, 2021, 13:19 IST
last updated:June 09, 2021, 14:48 IST