Cricket needs to clean up its act

Let's not be taken aback that a player might actually use the word `black' to preface a comment, as if it's "out of character" for sport, or cricket, or particular teams, as some like to think it is. It happens. A lot.

ROHIT BRIJNATH

LET'S not be surprised at the Darren Lehmann incident.

Let's not be taken aback that a player might actually use the word `black' to preface a comment, as if it's "out of character" for sport, or cricket, or particular teams, as some like to think it is. It happens. A lot.

Let's be concerned that bananas are thrown on to the field when black soccer players perform and racist posters unfurled, and little is done about it.

Let's be clear, giving offence is not limited to nationality or race. Basketball superstar Shaquille O'Neal, whose poster adorns more walls than can be counted, sent this message to Yao Ming, the Chinese player who is making a powerful impression in the NBA. "Tell Yao Ming: ching-chong-yang-wah-ah-so". This, was supposed to be funny!!!

Let's not get dewy-eyed and say we didn't expect this sort of thing on the sports field, where, of all places, men are supposed to be viewed as equal. Prejudice cannot be sweated away, becoming a champion doesn't suddenly turn you into a better man.

Let's face facts, as Nirmal Shekar made us do in The Hindu last week, when he said if you think sport unites then it's time to get a naivety check. There are only nine countries that play serious cricket and most don't get along.

Let's wonder at the irony of the two words Lehmann spoke, and how newspapers will write the words as "black c----s", when, in fact, it is not the second, not-spelt-out word that offends, but the first.

Let's rubbish people who claim it was "heat of the moment" because it wasn't, it was off the field away from the play. Furthermore, I thought "heat of the moment" was when we understood men best, when we truly got a glimpse into a man's character under stress. Now, it's become the excuse for everything!

Let's blame Lehmann for doing his sport a bigger disservice than he has any idea. Days later, when Australia struggled to beat England in Adelaide, thus ensuring the Poms go into the final at the expense of the Lankans, there was immediate (and incorrect) speculation that it was done deliberately.

Let's be alarmed by the thoughtless spin Geoff Lawson put on the whole episode. According to a local newspaper, Lawson said the ICC is desperate to get India to the World Cup and is using Lehmann as a scapegoat. Mr. Lawson doesn't even play anymore so we can't say he's been out in the sun too long. More repugnant was his reported quote that "Clive (Lloyd, the match referee) is a West Indian. He's black if you haven't noticed. And he hasn't taken offence from the incident". No, but I have and so have others.

Let's be furious not at David Hookes' defence of Lehmann but the way he did it. First he said: "It is very out of character for Darren Lehmann. He is not a player to react to anything and for him to say that... I would assume someone said something to him". Does provocation make a racist comment acceptable? Then, Hookes was quoted as saying: "You can't call him a racist because he's called someone a black so-and-so". We're presuming Mr. Hookes was misquoted because his comment sounds sillier every time you read it. If this is the wisdom being dispensed by the game's commentators, cricket is in an awful lot of trouble.

Let's not even go into what Greg Matthews said because frankly we don't even care.

Let's rebuke the Lankans for not following through with their complaint about Lehmann's remarks and asking that the Australian be treated leniently. You cannot assert there are conspiracy theories afoot and decry the behaviour of the Australians, and then go all gooey once punishment is about to be administered. It makes a mockery of the process.

Let's be disappointed that the Australian Cricket Board responded to the incident in slow-motion. Counselling Lehmann was like telling a kid to wash his mouth out with soap. A grown man, in a global game, shouldn't need to be told that the word "black" is the wrong choice.

Let's applaud Malcolm Speed for not sitting back, or playing favourites, something past ICC presidents have been wont to do, and slapping Lehmann with a punishment that fits his crime. There has too much glossing over in cricket and too little action.

Let's remember this is more than a player problem, for some of the Australian crowd's treatment of Murali was disgraceful. The more the Western media drones on about Murali's action the more it legitimises the crowd's behaviour. To question his deliveries then becomes tolerable conduct, it's just the language, which we are fighting about.

Let's be honest as well and not get too self-righteous in India, because when it comes to discrimination, we don't do too badly. Furthermore, little in cricket has been as unseemly as some of our posturing over the Mike Denness affair. Every time India's pride gets hurt we shout "racism". But, like the fable, if you cry wolf too often no one takes you seriously any more.

Let's say OK to those who say "Lehmann was wrong, he was punished, so let's get on with it", as long as the same rules applies to everyone else. The East shouldn't harp on it, but neither should the West talk about "spoilt prince" and "late for the toss" every time they see Ganguly, or "a disgrace to his country" when they mention Ranatunga.

Let's not come to the point where a team walks off the field, packs its bags and goes home because believe me we're not too far from it.