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Neither Cricket nor Humanity

Monday 25 December 2023, by Sushant Singh

“What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?” That immortal sentence from CLR James should be the guiding motto of the International Cricket Council, but it seems farthest from their thoughts in recent years. The latest sign is the case of Australian batter Usman Khawaja who was barred from wearing the words, “freedom is a human right” and “all lives are equal” on his shoes during the first Test in Perth. The 37-year-old had also copped a reprimand for having sported a black armband on Day 2 of the Test match against Pakistan at Perth Stadium last week.

Now, the ICC has gone further and rejected his application to spread his message of peace by sporting a dove with an olive branch on his shoe during the Boxing Day test. It is a reference to Article One of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that reads, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” Khawaja, who has been vocal about his beliefs, has the support of his cricket board, his captain Pat Cummins and teammates. “We really support Uzzy (Khawaja). I think he’s standing up for what he believes, and I think he’s doing it really respectfully,” Cummins said.

Asked at a presser, Cummins argued that there is no difference between Usman Khawaja displaying a dove logo on his shoe and bat to raise awareness of humanitarian issues and teammate Marnus Labuschagne displaying an eagle on his bat which signifies a personal religious message. Labuschagne displays the symbol of an eagle on the back of his bats which represents a verse from the bible and has long been allowed to have the sticker on his bat in international cricket. Almost every player in the Australian team, including Khawaja, also have multiple advertising stickers on their bats that represent different companies including their bat/equipment sponsor and a secondary personal sponsor.

A religious cause is acceptable, commercial gain is welcomed but a message for peace and humanity is not. The message is about Gaza where Israeli military action has killed more than 20,000 Palestinians, including 8,000 children. Khwaja is not wearing a Palestinian symbol or an Islamic motif. He is reminding the world of what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted after the horrors of the Holocaust, states. The hypocrisy of those who constantly shouted, “Never again” and pledged to uphold the “rules-based global order” is laid bare by this simple gesture by Khwaja. It is way short of what was done to Russian athletes after Putin invaded Ukraine; or when the Indian cricket team wore camouflage pattern caps in support of the Indian Army.

That the ICC should feel uncomfortable with Khwaja’s request is hard to comprehend. Cricket is a game mainly played by countries of the Global South, barring England, Australia and New Zealand, where the Palestinian cause has overwhelming support. South Africa and Ireland have been at the forefront of those speaking against the horrors being inflicted upon the Palestinians in Gaza. India is the outlier here – Modi has embraced the US position rather closely and supported his friend Bibi Netanyahu. Now, he is sending Indian workers to replace the Palestinian labour working in the construction sector in Israel. His supporters remain in thrall of an Islamophobic narrative, which is reinforced by the Israeli state narrative about Gaza.

Modi’s party is a staunch supporter of Israel and avoids asking for peace and justice for Palestinians in occupied areas. It controls the BCCI, which seems to be the spiritual and material boss of the ICC. Is that the reason Khawaja’s request has been denied by the ICC? What else could be the reason? Meanwhile, here in India, forget current or former cricketers, even sports journalists are unwilling to underline the Khawaja episode lest it forces people to wonder why Indian cricket superstars are such cowards – and are subjugated into submission by those who now have parasitic control over Indian cricket.

It is no surprise then that for the ICC, peace and brotherhood is too much to ask for. That’s not cricket. Neither is it humanity.

Source: The India Cable