British cricketer Moeen Ali | Wikimedia Commons
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It has been a week of multiple conversations about sports and social justice – whether it was the way British cricketers reacted to Bangladeshi novelist Taslima Nasreen tweet targeting Moeen Ali, US Commissioner of Major League Baseball Robert Manfred pulling out of the big game from Atlanta over Georgia’s new voting law, or debate over whether US athletes should boycott the 2022 Beijing Olympics because of Xinjiang. Should sportspersons step forward and take a position or kneel over bigotry and injustice?

When writer-activist Nasreen weighed in on England cricket team’s player Moeen Ali earlier this week, she caused a stir on Twitter. “If Moeen Ali were not stuck with cricket, he would have gone to Syria to join ISIS,” she tweeted.

It was unclear if Nasreen was reacting to a story about the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) allowing Moeen Ali to wear the team jersey without any alcohol sponsors due to his religious beliefs — a story that was later debunked by the cricket team’s CEO Kasi Viswanathan.

Regardless, Nasreen’s tweet was a blatant example of anti-Muslim bigotry and the blowback was swift, particularly from four English cricketers. While Jofra Archer didn’t think Nasreen was “okay”, Saqib Mahmood, Sam Billings and Ben Duckett referred to her as “disgusting”, and Duckett and Billings also called on people to report her account.

 

In response to the criticism, Nasreen initially said “haters” had decided to “humiliate” her due to her opposition to Islamic fundamentalism, despite knowing that her tweet was “sarcastic”. However, she deleted her tweet not long after Jofra Archer said it was the least she could do.

Moeen Ali’s father, Munir Ali, also questioned why of all the possible targets, Nasreen chose to attack Moeen’s religion. In a brief but moving piece for The Indian Express, Munir said, “For now, I would ask her to pick a dictionary and see the meaning of sarcasm. It’s not what she thinks it is. It’s not spewing vile poisonous stuff against someone you don’t even know and then retracting it by saying it was sarcasm.”


Also read: Daren Sammy shouldn’t wait for apology from IPL teammates. India is in denial about its racism


Outrage vs silence

Many Indians on Twitter — journalists, activists and cricket fans alike — not only commended the English cricketers for standing by Moeen against bigotry, but also criticised current Indian cricketers for not speaking up in previous instances of racism or hate speech.

Such criticisms of Indian cricketers are fair and accurate, in light of the farmers’ protests and the Wasim Jaffer controversy.

After pop-star Rihanna and climate change activist Greta Thunberg tweeted in support of Indian farmers protesting the new farm laws in early February, the biggest names of Indian cricket were out in droves using the same hashtags and same messages to deride “external forces” for spreading propaganda about India’s “internal matter”.

However, when the time came to offer words of support towards prominent Indian ex-cricketer and coach Wasim Jaffer, who faced flimsy allegations of communalism during his tenure as Uttarakhand coach — an “internal matter” within Indian cricket — there was silence. It was left to former cricketers like Anil Kumble and Irfan Pathan to stand by Jaffer.

Test vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane went so far as to claim complete ignorance on the issue. It is hard to believe that someone who did not take the time out to inform himself on a problem affecting a fellow Indian cricket stalwart would consider himself qualified enough to comment on an issue completely unrelated to cricket. But perhaps #IndiaSupportsWasimJaffer did not have as nice a ring to it.


Also read: Michael Holding gives ‘powerful message’ on racism in cricket, Harsha Bhogle praises Sky Sports


More than meets the eye

Based on this huge contrast between responses, it would be easy to say that Indian cricket reflects a broader culture of not using its influential platform to the fullest extent, and leave it at that. However, such social media situations involving public relations and media managers are more complicated than that.

The England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB), for instance, has been at the forefront of promoting the #BlackLivesMatter movement within the sport, alongside Cricket West Indies (CWI). When England hosted the West Indies in the World Test Championship last July, both sets of players took a knee and players like Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler also publicly supported the movement on social media.

 

However, English cricket was rocked by a racism scandal of its own last summer, when Pakistan-born English all-rounder Azeem Rafiq leveled a series of allegations against his former domestic team, Yorkshire County Cricket Club.

Similar to what we have seen in India, Rafiq received a great deal of support from former players such as Rana Naved ul-Hasan, and Isabelle Westbury for coming out with his story. But current members of the England men’s team (including those who played alongside Rafiq at Yorkshire and the England U-19s team like Test captain Joe Root) stayed silent.

Fast forward to January 2021, when Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Siraj were subjected to alleged racist taunting and abuse by audience members at Sydney Cricket Ground during an India-Australia World Test Championship match. Siraj’s fellow Indian team members were quick to support him for calling out the abuse, as did Australia off-spinner Nathan Lyon.

None of this is intended as any engagement in whatabouttery or trying to play a game of ‘which cricket team does a better job of standing up to bigotry’.

Rather, the varied responses to these situations show how both English and Indian cricketers have failed to fully support members of their own communities when it is a so-called “internal matter”.

It is far easier for the players to call out bigotry if the bigot in question comes from afar, or has little to no direct potential impact on their livelihoods. Would Archer’s or Billings’ response be as rightfully caustic if Nasreen belonged to the ECB? Would they have supported Rafiq if the accused were not a storied cricketing institution like Yorkshire?

Similarly, would the Indian team have stood by Jaffer if the half-baked accusations came from a foreign team, and not the Cricket Association of Uttarakhand? Or would they have supported Siraj if he were attacked by local fans on the basis of his religion?

Only the cricketers themselves can honestly answer these questions, but they do deserve a great deal of commendation for supporting Mohammad Siraj or Moeen Ali, when they could have easily either wilted in the Australian conditions or let Nasreen’s comments slide.

Ultimately, such so-called controversies only lend themselves to one issue — why do people feel that cricketers (or any celebrity) owe them a public comment or response to any major issue?

Addressing this would involve analysing misplaced celebrity worship, toxic fan culture, and figuring out how to achieve serious progress on bigotry through direct action and organisational work. But why spend time delving into such nuanced issues when you can tweet at cricketers instead?

Views are personal.

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27 COMMENTS

  1. I support Talima Nasreen. What she said is right. Even though he as found cricket, he is still an ISIS. After retiring from cricket, mark my words he is going to be ISIS. Call me hate monger, I dont care

    • Hindu Militant: Well hate monger, there is absolutely no proof that Moeen Ali belongs to any militant organisation such as ISIS. Perhaps you could start by revealing which Hindu Taliban outfit you belong to: Bajrang Dal ? Adityanath’s Hindu Yuva Vahini? Ram Sene?

  2. Taslima Nasreen had to face fatwas from mullahs, nobody bat an eyelid then. I hope and wish these left cabal spends a year along with their families in Pakistan and Bangladesh in a lower middle class conservative society – and come out alive!

  3. WHEN LAST YEAR TASLIMA ASKED A.R. RAHMAN DAUGHTER WHY SHE IS WEARING VEIL ( HIJAB) ARE YOU NOT SUFFOCATED, SEE NOW WHOLE WORLD IS WEARING MASK.THIS IS POWER OF GOD, SO PLEASE DON’T UNDER ESTIMATE THE POWER OF GOD.

    • Mr Ahmed Basheer: It is not the power of God, but the power of a virus. Prior to invention of the anti-rabies by Louis Pasteur, people thought that vampires were responsible for rabies which science later proved to be untrue.

      And yes, both the veil and the mask lead to breathing difficulties. When the virus is gone, the masks will go, but the veil, rightly or wrongly is seen as a symbol of female oppression in many non-Muslim countries and may persist. And it is banned in many of them, the latest being Switzerland.

      So please don’t read too much into the disease.

  4. WHEN TASLIMA ASK A.R.RAHMAN DAUGHTER, WHY SHE IS WEARING VEIL ( HIJAB.) , ARE YOU NOT SUFFOCATED, SEE NOW WHOLE WORLD IS WEARING MASK. THIS IS POWER OF GOD. SO PLEASE DON’T UNDER ESTIMATE THE POWER OF GOD.

  5. Dear The point you are a an anti India propaganda machine, the whole world knows . You don’t have time to highlight the positive things but rush to break a headline which happens 1 in 1000. This shows your despiration to paint India in Abad light and your longstanding victim Muslim agenda . India has seen a dozen of Muslim presidents but why would an extreme biased propaganda machin elite u will ever talk about it . Cherry pick just what suits your agenda.

    • And why do you say tht Mr Harsh ? Care to elaborate ? After all it is easy to sling mud as you do but harder to justify why you do that right?

  6. The people who are praising Tasleema are nothing but hate mongers.
    You can’t blame an entire community for the actions of a small group. It’s as in a locality of 10000 people there are 20 thieves and u call the entire locality as theft loving.
    These are just ways to spread hate and people commenting in support are just what we call andh bhakts- They have left their logic and are seeing the facts on Whatsapp University about some particular group and generalizing them about the entire muslim community

  7. You put one foot forward and become modern-thinking and play world-class cricket while you are rooted deeply in traditions, rituals and fanatic beliefs on the other foot dragging back….are you not s confused person…are you not greedy commercialising cricket and amassing wealth…to set the confusion at rest such s person should be confined to some religious place and be there deeply rooted and closeted away from all modernistic ways….you cannot have the cake and eat it too…?!

  8. Is this all Much ado about nothing just because it has come from a habitual baiter?

    Are we (including the media) handling these errant tweets et al as they should be. Take the case of this tweet by Taslima Nasreen (TN) on Moeen Ali (MA). If the media had not made an issue of it, I wouldn’t even have known of the tweet. And coming from TN, ignoring it would have been the best course. Nuisance value is immensely reduced by just ignoring. All those who interact with MA on a daily basis could have reassured him at a personal level, as I am sanguine would have been done. If the remark had been from even a common citizen like me, it would have been more serious than it coming from TN.

    Tail piece: Has TN a hidden agenda in these utterances? Are we playing up to her agenda?

  9. What’s so wrong about Taslima’s tweet??!! She speaks with bitter experience of first being hounded out from Bangladesh and then West Bengal. Count the number of Muslims, not only from the UK bit also from the rest of Europe , who went and fought in Syria. It was local born Muslims of Pakistani origin who bombed and carried out those terrorist acts in London. In so many European countries, Muslims are actively demanded Sharia law. Keep all this in context before you even think of condemning Taslima

  10. Nasreen has hit the nail on it’s head…except these muslims living in the western society and of course thier pakistani counterpart no one behaves like this… This treand of women sportswomen wearing scarves from acorss the globe must end…the left liberal are upto their tak again defending the most radical Islamists ..pathetic article.. The print is losing it faster than anyone else

  11. Don’t care,indians should support indian friendly policies only.no need to be held hostage by foreign powers or cults or cultures especially if they are detrimental to our position.this woke politics will die when the patron saint of woke that is the usa gets into a civil war due to internal contradictions and when china ascends.china is right when it comes to muslims.

  12. In India opinions of mega stars such as cricketers matter a lot. A cricketer making an unknowingly comment causes quite a stir and a single comment can make thousands of people view a particular issue in a different manner, and it definitely adds up to the masala of news agencies. In a lot of cases, being silent is the best option if you are not well-informed.

  13. Looks like the article was inspired by Barney Ronay’s piece in the Guardian. Both articles compare apples to oranges. On one hand, a bunch of cricketers spoke out against a vicious, bigoted, attack against their colleague. On the other hand, a bunch of cricketers spoke out against a half-baked view by some international media personalities against a structural reform in India. A fairer comparison would have been the way Indian cricketers rallied around Siraj when he was racially abused in Australia.

  14. She has fully depressed in bangladesh.
    What if she were in India.
    She would probably gone to the so called
    “RSS” with her fellow little people..
    Have some riots( be the leader) in delhi for not giving votes
    to modi, became an MLA or may be MP
    Who knows.

  15. Stupid to pick on Indian cricketers for not saying anything which goes with your opinion. This is the exact problem with the left liberals, they are just not liberal or respectful with opinions which aren’t what they want to hear. Now do you see Australian cricketers or anyone else going berserk over what Taslima has said. Please note I am not justifying her crap but please don’t hound people who haven’t offered an opinion. Regarding the farmers protest if they feel they are vindicated please go to the Indian SC which too they refuse too despite knowing very well protests are largely in Punjab and some parts of Haryana and UP largely when you even have left leaning economist like Gita Gopinath saying the reforms are good. It’s more political in nature and the Print is on which side is too well known.

  16. The author forgot to include the mistreatment of Dinesh Kaneria in Pakistan and Moeen Ali didn’t speak up for him

  17. What’s so wrong about Taslima’s tweet??!! She speaks with bitter experience of first being hounded out from Bangladesh and then West Bengal. Count the number of Muslims, not only from the UK bit also from the rest of Europe , who went and fought in Syria. It was local born Muslims of Pakistani origin who bombed and carried out those terrorist acts in London. In so many European countries, Muslims are actively demanded Sharia law. Keep all this in context before you even think of condemning Taslima

  18. Across the globe Muslims don’t criticize violent acts of fellow Muslims . They are themselves to blame for their notorious reputation.

    • Why dont u criticise our govt aggressive action in our Kashmir, bcos they r Muslims?why don’t u criticise when hindu terror mob 200 kill single poor Muslim man at an isolated place?

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