Moeen abuse shows cricket’s dark side
The booing of Moeen Ali at Edgbaston revealed the ugly side of sporting rivalry and suggested intolerance remains in the UK. It should not be ignored
George Dobell at Edgbaston
September 7, 2014
Dobell: Moeen boos detract from spectacle
It should have been the perfect end to an absorbing summer of international cricket. We had beautiful weather. We had a sell-out crowd. We had a run-soaked T20 that contained outrageous skills and an exciting finish.
We should have gone home talking about MS Dhoni’s decision to turn down singles in the final over. His self-confidence and his preparedness to take responsibility for the team. Or, perhaps, his lack of confidence in his team-mates.
We should have gone home talking about Virat Kohli’s only half-century of the tour in international cricket – the same number as James Anderson – or Eoin Morgan’s brilliant innings. The England captain, so short of runs in international cricket this summer, helped England thrash 81 from the final five overs of their innings and scored 56 in the 15 balls before his dismissal. We might even have witnessed the birth of a new-look England side for both forms of the limited-overs game.
Either way, this should have been a brilliant advert for cricket. But instead there was a sour end to the summer. An unsettling end. An end that suggested, for all the progress we think we have made in creating a multicultural society in the UK, we have a long way to go.
Because, in the middle of Birmingham on a bright afternoon in 2014, we saw at least one player subjected to abuse from a far from insubstantial section of the crowd on the basis of either his religion or his national or ethnic origin.
Moeen Ali was booed when he came out to bat. He was booed when he came on to bowl. He was booed most times he touched the ball. And he was booed either because he is a player of Asian origin playing for England – Ravi Bopara also attracted some boos, though far fewer – because he is Muslim or, perhaps most pertinently, because he is of Pakistani origin and the vast majority of the crowd were India supporters.
On the back of every ticket and inside every match programme it states: “Spectators shall not engage in any conduct, act towards or speak to any player, umpire, referee or other official or other spectators in a manner which offends, insults, humiliates, intimidates, threatens, disparages or vilifies that other person on the basis of that other person’s race, religion, colour, national or ethnic origin.”
By such a definition, it is impossible to justify these boos. It is inappropriate to dismiss them as “banter” – an invidious description used to excuse sexism, homophobia, bullying and racism in many walks of life – and it is inappropriate to dismiss them as a symptom of any rivalry that exists between Pakistan and India.
Nor should we link this with the booing experienced by Stuart Broad in Australia and James Anderson and Ravi Jadeja this summer. Those jeers, unappealing though they were, do not stem from a dislike of origin or religion. They reflected specific issues.
Nor should we fool ourselves that these are pantomime boos. Just as the monkey chants that used to shame football grounds in the UK were unacceptable, so it must be unacceptable to hear a player derided for their religion or origin. It is not funny.
And let us not mistake this issue with any pretence that this is simply a manifestation of support for India. Spectators are free to support whichever side they like and the passion for cricket from spectators of Asian origin in the UK is of huge benefit to the game. But there is a chasm between supporting one side and denigrating the players of the opposition. It would be irresponsible to link the two.
What, it might be asked, would be the reaction if an all-white crowd booed a player of Asian origin? What would be the implications if a black player was booed each time he touched the ball? If such behaviours are deemed unacceptable – and, thankfully, in this day and age, they are – why should the booing of a man on the basis of his religion or origin be any different?
Moeen was born in Birmingham and he graduated through Warwickshire’s youth system. He has a mixed-heritage family with a white grandmother from the Birmingham area. His religion or ethnicity should not be issues and he has previously said that such behaviour does not affect him.
But there is an irony that Moeen has spoken of being a role model. He has spoken of showing that it is possible to be British, Muslim and proud of both. He has spoken of encouraging other Asian cricketers into mainstream league and club cricket in the UK. He has, despite his relative youth and inexperience, spoken only of inclusivity and unity. He makes an unlikely villain.
The episode proved difficult for the ground authorities to handle. Had the stewards started to eject those involved, the situation could have deteriorated. Had Morgan, who denied any knowledge of the booing, led his team from the pitch, the situation could have deteriorated.
But just because a situation is difficult, it does not mean it should be avoided. This sort of episode should not happen. It must not happen. And if we find it unacceptable – and we really should – we must not ignore it. Whatever the many mistakes of the past, 21st century Britain cannot be accepting of intolerance based around race, religion, colour, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation or any other such issue.
Cricket can unite. In Afghanistan and the Caribbean and LA and Ireland, it has been shown to bring people from differing backgrounds together. It does it in league teams around the country every week. Here it provided a peek behind the façade of multicultural Britain. It was an ugly, depressing sight. And it should not be ignored.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
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