May 26, 2020
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Simian Menace

When did the Indian fan go racist? Or was it driven out of proportion by media hype?

Simian Menace
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Simian Menace
outlookindia.com
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Does anyone among our famed one-billion-and-counting cricket kingdom doubt that, as a spectator sport, the Game has undergone a sea-change? A decade ago, who'd have thought you'd see fans with war paint (be it the national colours) on their faces, or sinewy young maidens doing the hula-hula as sixers went out of the park. The standing ovation, the 'well done, mate' placards and that heart sinker—the collective gasp—is all history. Today's fans—more and more of them anyway—are in it for "the experience", the popcorn-munching, Shahrukh-sighting, me-too-on-the-video-wall one. So is it any surprise that among these new-fangled fans, quite a number have turned out to be boors? Sure, 'atithi devo bhava' has faded as a creed, but who'd have thought we'd travel to the other pole? That four Mumbaikars would be arrested for racial taunts?

Some questions rear their ugly heads in the wake of the Mumbai ODI incident that targeted Aussie cricketer Andrew Symonds: has the Indian cricket lover turned the page, gone from fan to fanatic? Have some become racist as well? At least one cricket historian was heard arguing that it's alright for Indians to be racist considering "the whites" have been racist for a century and more.

Going from the beginning, the whole episode was sparked off by the 32-year-old Symonds implying in his Aussie newspaper column that he was a target of racism. "I must admit I am very surprised at the reception...this has been hostile. I don't know what's going to transpire from what happened to me the other day (the Indian crowd making monkey noises)," he wrote in the Herald Sun.

He then fuelled it by his allusion to the monkey calls at the media conference after the belter in Vadodara. "I drew on that for my innings. It helped get me going. I didn't mind when it happened. What disappointed me was somebody denied it happened. It's not in my hands, but for the powers that be, to deal with the matter."

Indeed, after initially trying to blame it on "cultural and language differences", the BCCI was forced to move. More so after the International Cricket Council's harsh comments. "If people are seen or heard behaving in a racist way, then our message to the ground authorities and host boards is clear: find the culprits, throw them out and keep them out because racism has no place in our sport," ICC CEO Malcolm Speed said. "Some offenders in Mumbai were ejected and that is the type of zero tolerance we want in relation to this despicable behaviour."

So, if racism be the issue, who defines it and is it different in different countries? The ICC's anti-racism code, adopted last November, is almost water-tight as it leaves out any ambiguity on "spectator conduct". Cricket columnist Mukul Kesavan is also clear it was racism that was on view. "Our virtue as a nation is that we committed ourselves to an inclusive pluralism. Our aim as a cricket-playing nation ought to be to live up to that ideal. It was Hamish Blair's brilliant photograph of two middle-class Indian men in the Wankhede stands, trying to look like apes and succeeding, that swung Indian public opinion away from denial towards an acknowledgment that there was a problem that needed to be named. And its name is racism," he wrote in his blog on cricinfo.com.

Curiously, the Australians appeared to backtrack after initially adopting an aggressive posture. "I don't think Symonds made too much about the incident. It was not him but the match referee who brought up the issue," Australian captain Ricky Ponting said. The man at the centre of the storm also seemed perturbed. "I never made a complaint at any venue but I did answer media questions asking whether I had heard the chants aimed at me in Vadodara. I tried to defuse the original situation by interacting with the crowd. I feel that the print and TV media have badly misrepresented my views...," Symonds was quoted as saying in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Symonds is not the only one who has laid the blame at the media's door. Indian vice-captain Yuvraj Singh also identified the media as being the key driver. "The media is the one that built up the racial issue," he says. "It played up the controversy by spicing up whatever happened. Otherwise, this would never have reached such a situation. But I am against racial abuse. Every player is against it. This should not happen."
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