For the International Cricket Council, some causes are more equal than others

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For the International Cricket Council, some causes are more equal than others

By Shahid Judge

Eventually, it came down to a black armband. When it comes to cricket, it always does. That is where activism is allowed to start and is forced to end.

For years, cricketers have been faulted for being unwilling to take a stand on any social cause – particularly Indian players. But as last week’s events involving Usman Khawaja demonstrated, it is clear that the International Cricket Council likes to keep players’ hands tied.

Khawaja, a veteran Australian opening batter, wanted to wear shoes for a Test match against Pakistan that had these words handwritten on them: “All lives are equal. Freedom is a human right.” 

It was a message of peace and a call for humanity to prevail amidst Israel’s brutal war on Gaza – a war that cannot be ignored.

Yet the world body for cricket was quick to bar him from wearing the shoes, because the organisation felt it was a political statement.

All lives are equal. Freedom is a human right. A political statement?

It is an outrageous notion from the ICC, but it fits with everything the organisation has been about. In its 114 years of existence, the ICC (even in the time from 1909 to 1965 when it was called the Imperial Cricket Conference) has shunned activism.

Players are allowed to wear black armbands to mourn the passing of a former player, family member, or as a symbol of solidarity for victims of a disaster. So Khawaja wore his armband to show his support for the civilians of Gaza

Though activism in cricket is a rarity, there have been cases of players and teams taking public positions. For instance, teams took the knee when the Black Lives Matter movement was at its peak.

In the 1970s, there was an international boycott of South Africa because of the country’s Apartheid policy. In 2003, Zimbabwean cricketers Andy Flower and Henry Olonga wore armbands to highlight atrocities at the hand of the country’s dictator Robert Mugabe.

These are all just causes and well worth fighting for, but they did not buck any trend. The world at large had already spoken up for these issues before the cricketers chimed in.

Khawaja, just as it was with English cricketer Moeen Ali who in 2014 wore “Save Gaza” and “Free Palestine” wristbands, were rare cricketing voices speaking up for Gaza. But they were not allowed to do so on a cricket field.

The ICC has been arbitrary in its assessment of what is political and what is not.

It was well within the ICC guidelines, it seems, for the Indian team to have donned camouflage caps in 2019 during a match to show their support for the army amidst a stand-off with Pakistan. The caps were distributed to the commentators as well. No black armbands required here, it seems.

When India and Australia were celebrating “75 years of Friendship” in March, it was marked by the prime ministers of the two nations taking a lap of honour at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad at the start of a Test match between their teams. 

It is not uncommon for politicians to make their way to the centre of a cricket ground, but the spectacle in March did not belong on the sports field.

Not all cricketers lack a spine. You could tell that from the way Virat Kohli stood up for Mohammed Shami, who was abused for being a Muslim after a loss to Pakistan. You could tell that from how Mohammed Siraj stood up to racist calls from the crowd during a match in Sydney.

You can tell that from how Khawaja is willing to fight the ICC’s mandate against his stand, with his captain Pat Cummins backing him up.

But it is the ICC – and in some cases, national cricket boards – that play an important role in forcing them into silence.

For the ICC, all causes are equal, but some are more equal than others.

Fun fact of the week: Several records tumbled during the Indian women’s cricket team’s win over England in the one-off Test last week. India’s 347-run win became the biggest margin of victory by runs in women’s cricket history. India’s lead of 478 runs while declaring in the second innings was also the highest ever in the women’s game. Player of the match Deepti Sharma became the second Indian woman to score a half century and take a five-wicket haul in the same match.

Here's a recap of the top stories from this past week

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