By Robson Sharuko
HARARE- FROM Darren Lehman describing Sri Lankans as “f***ing black cunts” in 2003, Dean Jones calling Hashim Amla “a terrorist” live on television and Ian Chappell triggering global outrage this week by saying South Africa’s new fast bowling sensation Kagiso Rabada was from “a village”, racism has always stalked Australian cricket.
And, sadly, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
But, in an era where social media can explode anytime, the globe can suddenly be turned into a fierce warzone of cyber insults in rejection of racist jibes – as happened this week when Chappell, a former Australian national cricket team captain, appeared to racially abuse Rabada after the paceman’s starring role in helping the Proteas complete a comprehensive 177-run victory over Australia in the first of three Test matches at the WACA in Perth.
With South African pace spearhead, Dale Steyn, sidelined by a shoulder injury he suffered during Australia’s first innings, Rabada answered his country’s call for a hero with a sensational five-wicket haul in the hosts’ second innings to help South Africa win the Test match.
Given that he is only 21, and a newcomer to the big stage of Test cricket, Rabada’s heroics in Perth were widely praised back in South Africa but one powerful Australian cricket voice appeared to get it all wrong live on television.
Asked by his fellow Channel Nine television commentator, Ian Healy, where he thought Rabada perfected his fast bowling skills, Chappell caused global outrage when he said the emerging star might have done that while playing cricket against his village mates.
“You’d have to ask all the batsmen in his village,” said Chappell.
And this sparked outrage around the world, not simply because Rabada is from Johannesburg where his father is a neurosurgeon, but the mere fact that Chappell appeared to insinuate that, simply because he was black, it meant he came from a village.
“So Joburg doesn’t qualify as a village? Staggering, isn’t it?” respected South African cricket commentator and writer, Neil Manthorp, said in Twitter.
“Surprised they didn’t ask who was looking after his herd (of cattle) when he’s here.”
Runi Talwar also took to Twitter to express his anger.
“I like Ian Chappell. He may be racist but, at least, he makes it clear that he’s also an idiot,” Talwar fumed.
Rushab Shah wrote, “That ‘village’ of Cape Town where Rabada and his neurosurgeon father come from. Jeez what a bulls**t Ian Chappell is.”
Despite the global outrage, a Channel Nine spokesperson told the Daily Mail Australia they did not believe the comment was racist.
“Ian used ‘village’ as a colloquial term. Both he and the other commentators continued to discuss the background of the player with much respect and interest – informing the audience throughout play,” said the spokesperson.
“No offence was intended and we apologise to anyone who was.”
Interestingly, the incident came exactly 10 years after another Australian cricketer-turned-commentator, Dean Jones, described Amla, one of the best players in the Proteas team, as a “terrorist” during the South Africans tour of Sri Lanka.
The racist jibe was delivered live on television.
After Amla, who is a devout Muslim to the extent he does not wear the Castle Lager beer logo of the Proteas’ sponsors on his shirt, had taken a catch to dismiss Kumar Sangakkara, Jones – who was working for Ten Sports – was heard saying on television, “the terrorist has got another wicket”.
Jones was immediately sacked by his employers and, on his way back home to South Africa, he chatted with reporters at Colombo international airport.
“I’m gone, I’m on the 1am flight,” he told them. “It was a silly and completely insensitive thing to say and, obviously, it was never supposed to be heard over the air. I am truly sorry to have caused offence to anybody and the last thing I intended was to be disrespectful.
“Everyone needs to get away from perpetuating the myth, publicly and privately, that beards associated with the Muslim faith are somehow suspicious, and I intend to do exactly that. The irony is that I am great friends with most of the Pakistan team and they are all Muslims.
“I have no end of respect for the Muslim faith – that’s why I’m so sorry at making such a stupid comment. It does not represent who I am, how I think or what I believe. I will be the first person to apologise to Hashim as soon as I get the chance, and I will assure him that prejudice against anybody, on any basis, is unacceptable and not something I will ever condone.”
His contract was worth US$2,000 a day.
However, his apology did not stop the outrage around the globe.
“The switchboards of both Cricket South Africa and SuperSport, that takes a feed of the broadcast to South African audiences, have been jammed with calls from some very angry people,” the then chief executive of Cricket South Africa, Gerald Majola, said.
“This kind of insulting racial stereotyping has no place in cricket and must be stamped on swiftly. The ICC has strongly condemned racism and we will be discussing the matter with them.”
At least, Rabada has support and that, coming from a country where recently black and white people were divided by the evil war of apartheid, means a lot.
The fact that he is even leading the team’s attack, at the young age of 21, is itself a milestone.
An image of his captain Faf du Plessis kissing him, after taking a crucial wicket, went viral.
“I am incredibly proud of KG. He just wanted the ball,” Du Plessis told Cricinfo. “Every time I said, ‘Are you tired?’, he said, ‘No, you’re not taking the ball out of my hand’. That’s the sign of a champion bowler for me. He wants to be in the fight the whole time.”