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Are Indian fans guilty of racism?

| October 19, 2007, 3:47 PM IST

The final One-Day International between India and Australia at Mumbai has thrown up a new controversy. Were Indian fans being racists? Four of them were detained after an Australian photographer took their pictures that showed them making monkey gestures towards Australian all-rounder Andrew Symonds. The International Cricket Council (ICC) has an Anti-Racism Code that specifies the following: Spectators are reminded that racially abusive comments and actions will result in ejection from the ground and possible further action such as criminal prosecution, identification by way of photographing and/or capturing by video camera of the images of such persons and life bans being imposed on such persons. The Mumbai Police is going to use CCTV cameras for the India-Australia Twenty20 match on Saturday to keep track of fans indulging in racist behaviour. So are Indian fans guilty of racism? CNN-IBN’s Vidya Shankar Aiyar directed this question on Face The Nation to Peter Lalor, sports journalist of the Australian and well know TV commentator Charu Sharma. “It is not a yes-no answer. I am sorry. I cannot answer it like that. Some are,” Peter Lalor said. “I will take a little more time on this. For starters are Indians racists? Cricket fans are a microcosm of their own society because they haven’t come from Mars. In India we are very race, caste, creed and community aware and I guess cricket fans are similar. They are equally guilty as the rest of the nation,” Charu Sharma said. When asked if the incidents witnessed at Mumbai were racist or not, Lalor said, “They are racist to Andrew Symonds and that makes them racist.” However, Charu was quick to counter Lalor’s views. “Definitely not. The majority of the Indian crowd has been supportive of the Australian team although in Mumbai they were hostile, extremely hostile. I think the Mumbai crowd has a reputation for behaving like that. I have heard from the West Indies players and they say they have been racially abused in Mumbai,” Charu replied when asked if all the fans were racist or if it was just an exception. PAGE_BREAK Charu also said that to look at the issue from just a racism angle was not right. “We are going down the wrong track. Darwin might believe that all of us have descended from monkeys but a very small section of the Wankhede crowd made monkey sounds and/or gestures to Symonds and that is not quite racist. It might fall into some other category but to my mind it is not racist as such. We are experts at making a mountain out of a molehill. It ought to be forgotten because in the field of play or while watching these emotions do ride high. I heard some people mentioning that Australians fans have been against South Africa. South Africa complained to the ICC that they were badly treated in Australia. So fans around the world tend to use their intolerance against the visiting teams. I think that the Mumbai fans did nothing spectacularly different,” Charu said When asked if a mountain has been made out of a molehill, Lalor said, “No. I think when Malcolm Speed launched the Anti-Racism Code last year; he said that it was the most serious issue in cricket. He said it was an issue that would be treated with zero tolerance. I think what’s happening in India is very interesting at the moment. I think the dialogues have advanced a lot in the last few days. When this issue first raised its head in Vadodara there was nothing but denials. Now that the photographs have shown up and Mr. Pawar put up a joint statement with Mr. O’Conner from Australian cricket board, we are starting to discuss what racism is and what acceptable behaviour from the crowds is and this is an important thing to do. This is an educational process for crowds, the nation and the cricketers alike.” Meanwhile, racism is also a concern within Australia as it is in other parts of the world. A report called ‘What’s the score’ brought out by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission in Australia says the following: It is clear that incidents of racial abuse and vilification are prevalent across all major sporting codes involving professional sports people, amateurs, coaches and spectators. The fear of racism in Australian sport is also a major barrier to participation for indigenous people and those from various ethnic and cultural groups.” The report has been prepared by Race Discrimination Commissioner in Australia Tom Calma and is an acknowledgement of a weakness that exists Down Under. Indian fans also believe that it is the Australians who have led this whole culture of sledging that takes place in the game ands therefore it is only fair for the Indian fans to target them. PAGE_BREAK So is it a fair representation of what has happened? “Well, sledging is something that happens on field and it does not bring the fans in the picture at all. But they may also be reacting subconsciously to the fact that Australians fans have been known to be very loud in their appreciation or not as far as the visiting teams are concerned. So I don’t think the Indian fans are quite aping the Australian fans. It is more a question of Indian fans being a little more intolerant of defeat. That is what is bringing out the worst in the fans. It is not just Mumbai where India won but earlier on in Kolkata and many grounds, fans throw bottles and many other things on to the ground when India are doing badly or vice a versa. In Kolkata, a Test match was stalled and there was a mini riot and fire in the stands. Similar things have happened in many other grounds. So it is the intolerance of the Indian fans that comes out when facing defeat. That is the big problem,” Charu said. So should the fans be banned from watching all One-Dayers for life? When this was question was put to Lalor, he said, “I didn’t say that. You said that. I think that what we need to work out here is what is line of acceptable behaviour? It is acceptable although offensive for crowds to call Australians or visiting teams a****es or what ever they want to call them in any language they like. But it is unacceptable to make slurs towards players based on their race. And it exactly what is happening here and I am afraid that’s unacceptable.” “Of course I condemn that. But the point here is that a government-backed body made that point and accepted that it is happening in Australia and trying to address the issue. I am not saying that here in India. You guys are saying ‘You are racist so shut up’. Yes there are racist elements in the crowd in Australia and Indians do suffer racism in Australia and that is unacceptable,” Lalor reacted when asked to comment on the Race Dicrimination Commissioner’s report on racism in Australia. So are Indians racists some times? “It is a large nation and there is bound to be diversity of opinion and also those who are more racist than others and also those who are willing to publicise racism. What are you going to do to these four guys? Are you going to put their photos around the world? How is it going to be policed? That’s the whole question. I accept the fact that we need to be better behaved as an entire nation why only cricket fans. We need to be better behaved all the time,” Charu concluded. The final SMS and online poll results: So are Indian fans guilty of racism? Yes: 35 per cent No: 65 per cent CNN-IBN Editorial: Nothing justifies racism not even a sledging Australian cricketer. We can understand bad behaviour but not condone it. The issue at hand is neither legal nor moral. It is about sportsmanship. The shorter the game gets, so does ones patience, it seems, both in players and spectators. The trouble is, can sport remain competitive without aggression. Can aggression come without bad behavour? Whatever happened to the gentleman’s game? I can hear his plaintive cry: No racist behaviour please, this is cricket.

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