A momentary lapse of reason

Herschelle Gibbs has appealed against the two-test ban, and has maintained that while he is sorry for his actions he doesn't consider them racist. His father has defended him saying if there's anything Gibbs is not, it's a racist.-AP

Sport requires opposition and polarity for survival; sport is, however, already divided along enough lines to be further sectioned along racist ones. Racism must be kept out of sport, not snuck in under other names. The decision of the Gibbs appeal will be watched with interest, for it signals intent, writes S. Ram Mahesh.

The words a stump microphone at Centurion, South Africa, picked up on the fourth day of the first Test between South Africa and Pakistan have landed Herschelle Gibbs in serious trouble. But, more worryingly, they have raised, again, the issue of racism in sport. Specifically, the words that seemingly slipped through in a momentary lapse of reason have shown a mirror to the difficulty of tackling racism on various levels.

Sports authorities have grappled unsuccessfully with racism for some time now. The reasons are many. For, one, the definition of racism is troublesome. While the distinction between acceptable and enriching gamesmanship ("Your bat has more edges than a Rubik's cube", "He wants to hook my friends, let's help him out") and personal abuse is obvious, the distinction between personal abuse and racist abuse is subtle for it concerns, among other things, the constitution of identity, another troublesome issue.

Gibbs has appealed against the two-Test ban, and has maintained that while he is sorry for his actions he doesn't consider them racist. His father has defended him saying if there's anything Gibbs is not, it's a racist. During a warm-up match against New South Wales before the Ashes late last year, English spinner Monty Panesar was called a "stupid Indian" by a `fan'. While English authorities considered it racist, Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland said, though abusive, he didn't think it was a racist comment.

Another difficult aspect of dealing with racism involves the logistics of crowd handling. There is very little in the reportage of the Gibbs story that deals with provocation. "Herschelle was down at third man and he was copping a lot of abuse and I think even racial abuse," said South African captain Graeme Smith. "Security needs to be looked at. There was an incident where Makhaya (Ntini) was hit on the head by a Pakistan flag going up the stairs. The guys were provoked and that is why they are angry but we understand that what Herschelle did was wrong."

Ian Chappell — addressing the larger issue of the increase of abuse in cricket — makes the point that abuse gives fans a sense of involvement. "It could be," writes Chappell in his column, "that fans are seeing and hearing what is going on and have decided they can be `part' of the contest out in the middle by wading into the opposition from the other side of the fence." In some fine left-field deduction, Chappell posits that the lap of honour cricketers now routinely perform has contributed to this notion: "I recall thinking when I first saw it happen at soccer matches many years ago, `It's not smart to thank fans excessively, because they'll start thinking they actually have an influence on the result of a game.'"

Football crowds have made despicable monkey noises at black players; Indian crowds have made similar thinly-veiled remarks at West Indian cricketers; Australian crowds have called South African cricketers `kafirs', an offensive term with definite racist connotations. In fact, the abuse South Africans suffered in Australia caused an amendment of the ICC's Anti-Racism code. Stadium authorities were given a range of options from ejection to banning offenders for life. But, such measures require real-time monitoring and action. Closed-circuit television and telephone and text messaging hotlines, as envisaged in Australia, are a start. Not all stadium authorities, however, have access to such facilities. Still fewer have the will to stamp racism out.

Would Gibbs have reacted as he did had the stadium authorities at Centurion, the same that evicted members of the crowd that heckled spinner Paul Harris, acted quicker? One suppose not, though it shouldn't be construed as an excuse. It is, however, a question the ICC must consider. Governing bodies in sport, at the risk of generalisation, are loath to act decisively on racism; stamping out racism certainly seems lesser of a priority than advertised.

Anti-racism codes are much needed, for they provide the framework. But, governing bodies shouldn't stop at that. "Authorities have to be at war on this," said UK's minister of sport Richard Caborn, and authorities will do well to start by channelling the zeal and ability they bring to maximising monetary gains, which they insist they put back in sport.

Monty Panesar... a victim of racial abuse by a fan in Australia.-AP

Sport requires opposition and polarity for survival; sport is, however, already divided along enough lines to be further sectioned along racist ones. Racism must be kept out of sport, not snuck in under other names. The decision of the Gibbs appeal will be watched with interest, for it signals intent.

A solution exists perhaps in clamping down on abuse as a whole, however undemocratic it sounds, thereby circumventing the troubles of definition. Simon Barnes, writing in the Times, London, on sporting courtesies, argues that the insincerity of courtesy makes sport possible. "The insincerities tell us something we like to be reminded of: that sport is not warfare," writes Barnes. "Without insincerity, life would be pretty ghastly." Perhaps the insincerity of the much-maligned political correctness is not such a bad thing after all. It is artificial: by not saying what we really mean, do we think any differently? But, perhaps in the artificial medium of political correctness, the seed of evolved thinking will germinate.

QUOTE HANGER

The remark was racially offensive, the player admitted saying it and on that basis I am content that the punishment is appropriate.

— Chris Broad, Match Referee.

But I think we have to view this in the context in which it was said. It wasn't directed at any Pakistani player. It was done between overs. One of our players did shout something and it was picked up by the stump mikes.

— South Africa coach Mickey Arthur.

Gibbs has not made any racist remarks nor has he been racist to anyone and therefore he has not transgressed any rule of the ICC regarding racism.

— Tony Irish, secretary of the South African Cricketers' Association.

In our new South Africa, we cannot have a player like Gibbs making such statements. I think a person like Gibbs must be reminded that he is a role model for South Africa. In fact, every player in the national team is a role model for the youth in this country and I think they carry a great deal of responsibility.

— Krish Govender, a former anti-apartheid sports administrator.

Herschelle says these remarks were for the ears only of his team-mates in his proximity. He has apologised if he has caused offence to anyone.

— South Africa cricket board's chief executive Gerald Majola.