“Speak English.” If these words had been directed at an Indian by an unruly youth on a suburban bus – and A Current Affair got wind of it – all hell would’ve broken loose. Racism has no place in Australia, they would’ve howled.
After Australian cricketer David Warner yelled these words at Indian batsman Rohit Sharma at the MCG, Cricket Australia unleashed … not much more than a pat on the wrist.
That’s not surprising. The Australian cricket team is regarded as the most important and prestigious sporting team in the country. Countless pages of drivel have been written about Australia’s national identity being shaped by the love of the game and, presumably, by 11 drunk men singing True Blue in the change rooms.
The privilege of representing Australia also appears to include a license to be a racist brute.
Officially, the International Cricket Council (ICC) takes these matters very seriously. Racism is one of the most serious offences that can be committed. How this squares with Warner’s pathetic half a match-fee penalty is not clear. The more serious one-match ban dished out to Australia’s One Day International captain George Bailey for the heinous crime of a slow over rate in a game puts this into some perspective.
It is true that Australia is no lone wolf when it comes to racism in cricket. Last year the England and Wales Cricket Board charged Yorkshire’s captain with racism after a confrontation with a Black South African opponent during a county game.
But there is something special about the culture around the Australian cricket team. In a sport notorious for its sledging culture, Australia is infamous.
Coach Darren Lehman conceded that Warner’s outburst was “not a good look”, while helpfully pointing out that the batsman “is an aggressive character and we support that”. Reassuring words from a man who, when playing for Australia in 2003, left the field in a huff after being run out and stormed past the Sri Lankan dressing rooms yelling, “Black c***s!”
The Australian cricket establishment seems to believe that although there might be a line players shouldn’t cross, they nevertheless should push the boundaries.
Australian cricketers play hard but always fair. In all this there is an air of the Aussie digger at war; the mythology of brave, heroic and moral soldiers, which contrasts with the seedy reality of a brutal and racist army certainly no more moral than the enemy – and in many instances renowned for being particularly ruthless.
Speaking in his own defence Warner claimed he was simply being polite, not racist. Merely demonstrating a cultural curiosity. What rubbish.
Warner was not asking for Sharma to speak English – he was demanding, in a heated and angry exchange. Indeed, Warner has spent much more time playing in the Twenty20 Indian Premier League than Sharma has spent in Australia. Time to learn some Hindi perhaps, unless you expect the whole world to speak your language?
The Age Sports writer Greg Baum had the best line: “Here’s something in English for David Warner – shut up.”