February 2, 2010

Saad Shafqat

Australia needs to introspect

Saad Shafqat

You have to ask, what is happening in Australian society to produce such agitation? © Getty Images

Imagine for a moment if the shoe were on the other foot. Pakistan has become so demonised, the spectacle is not hard to picture. During an ODI in Lahore or Karachi, an Australian fielder is standing at square leg. All of a sudden, a Pakistani spectator jumps the fence and sprints on to the field, tackling the Australian from behind and pinning him to the ground. What happens next?

Yes, security will run after the invader and subdue him, as happened in Perth. But after that? Do you imagine the Australian player picking himself up without fuss and walking up to his captain to describe the event with a wink and a smile? Do you imagine the Australian team shrugging the whole thing off and getting on with the rest of the game?

Probably not.

Far more likely, if a spectator jumped the fence like that in Pakistan – and despite the barbed wire they can still do it, trust me – Ricky Ponting would call his team into an exaggerated huddle, announce to the umpires that his team has had enough, and walk off the ground in a huff. The tour would be abandoned forthwith and the international media would start blaring nonstop what a rotten place Pakistan really is.

In fact, what happened with Pakistani fielder Khalid Latif in Perth is a timely reminder that it is Australia where such incidents of uncivil behavior are being seen more and more. Even a casual Internet search reveals several reports of crowd trouble in Australian sports. Australian football, it turns out, is no stranger to crowd disturbances, but over the last few years, a number of visiting cricket teams have also suffered and been forced to lodge complaints. This year even the Australian Open tennis tournament was marred by the need to eject unruly fans.

Still, I could not find any mention of a spectator assaulting a fielder in the middle of a cricket international. In over three decades of watching cricket obsessively, I certainly have never seen anything like it.

You have to ask, what is happening in Australian society to produce such agitation? The country has a troubling history. Its early settlers maltreated indigenous races, and even today there are reports of immigrants of South Asian descent being killed for no apparent reason other than prejudice. A widely cited survey conducted in Queensland and New South Wales during 2001 found that 40% of Australians felt certain ethnic groups did not belong in their country, and 10% had views that were considered overtly racist. Of note, the choicest venom was reserved for Muslims.

There is something arrogant and unwelcoming in all this – to put it mildly – and it is hard to deny that this attitude is now creeping into cricket. One would have expected more responsible behavior from an advanced industrial nation like Australia. In the event, the ones behaving responsibly in this matter were the Pakistanis. They showed great tolerance and good humor in picking themselves up and carrying on after the assault in Perth. But this should not and does not diminish the shocking scale of the incident.

Of course, it would be unfair to paint all of Australia with one brush, and it must be acknowledged that modern Australian society has opened its doors to many refugees and immigrants, the majority of whom enjoy a life of peace, fulfillment and dignity. At the same time, there is no denying that something is amiss. Incidents like the one in Perth are unwanted symptoms of a pervasive malady. There are forces in Australian society – government, social agencies, academia – that are hard at work to diagnose the root cause and fix the mess. The rest of the world is with them.

In the meantime, one must give full marks to the Pakistan Cricket Board for raising the issue in a formal complaint to the ICC. Unlike the national team, which had a spineless performance in Australia, the PCB is now standing up to this Australian boorishness. “Pakistan gets blamed for security breaches, but look at what happened in Perth,” a PCB official was quoted today as saying. This trenchant and hard-nosed attitude from Pakistan’s cricket authorities, who are forever playing off the backfoot, is long overdue.

For its part, Cricket Australia has tendered to the PCB an unconditional apology. Pakistanis are a forgiving bunch and the apology is accepted, but CA must make sure stuff like this isn’t allowed to happen again. If this becomes a pattern, we could soon be asking whether Australia is a safe venue for Asian teams.

Saad Shafqat is a writer based in Karachi

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Posted by Neil on (February 13, 2010, 19:34 GMT)

Can 'introspect' be used as a verb? This op-ed column shows what it truly is (bollocks) by virtue of bad journalism, broad generalisations, lack of backup data/evidence, and plain old poor English. The conclusion that one spectator characterises a nation's sports and cultural ethos is laughable, and I'm surprised that Cricinfo allows this kind of garbage to propagate.

As an Australian, I deplore the action of one bozo, and applaud the response of the Pakistani team (as do most Aussies, I think). But to demonise it as terrorism or the like is taking it way too far. The article is garbage.

Posted by Matt on (February 10, 2010, 10:38 GMT)

What sensationalist tripe. Waist high fences around the playing fields, crowds who drink mass alcohol and an attendance this summer of at the least 200,000 people 1 drunken man manages to tackle a player and it's "a timely reminder that it is Australia where such incidents of uncivil behavior are being seen more and more" unbelievable. You've noticed the fences around subcontinent fields right? and the machine guns carried by the security guards too? and it's Australian society that needs to get things in order ha. I'm sure those internet searches you did directed you to at least 2 inaccurate reports about racist attacks, one being an Indian who set himself alight while trying to destroy his car for the insurance. The other a story of an Indian shot dead for which another 2 indians are being charged with murder. As they happened they're reported as racist but when the real story comes out no-one on the subcontinent cares. Try talking to people who have been here and see what they think

Posted by plsn on (February 4, 2010, 4:06 GMT)

John scott, can u say the same thing about India, buddy?

Posted by Bert on (February 3, 2010, 19:18 GMT)

I am a south african living in Durban. A few years ago, a drunken spectator [south african] tackled the referee during a rugby test South Africa v New Zealand. Not only did he get a few clouts accross the earhole from a few of the players for his troubles, he was also banned from all south african rugby union matches for life! This should be the punishment handed out to this aussie idiot! I have watched cricket all around the world, including at the MSG, the SCH and at Brisbane, and i was appaled by the behaviour of the local spectators. Young boys of 11 & 12 using foul language to insult opposition players and spitting etc. Yes, I think that aussie supporters have a lot to apologise for.

Posted by Al from Perth on (February 3, 2010, 14:06 GMT)

There are problems in Australian crowds and society. We are becoming increasingly dependent on alcohol to have a "good time". Make no mistake that this could have been a much more serious incident and to suggest it is just as a result of one "moron" is not true. I no longer go to 50 Over games because 7 hours of drinking in the hot WA sun leads to all sorts of problems that are often overlooked. How could the WACA admin let the fine for on ground invasion slip way behind the fines that apply in the eastern states? Racism - unlikely; A deep rooted problem in Australian society - Yes. (There were even strong protests in Perth when crowds were not allowed to drink for a 30 minute skyshow to celebrate Australia Day by the Swan River, in Perth!)

Posted by Be Afraidi on (February 3, 2010, 13:19 GMT)

Tin pot journalism.

Posted by Cameron on (February 3, 2010, 12:38 GMT)

Biased article as usual. The attack on the Pakistani player was a disgrace and everyone in Australia knows it, but to say it's a racist attack is a total joke, it was a pathetic action performed by a drunk fool who performed a clumsy football tackle (which i admit could've been serious if he had a knife or something). Security needs to be more alert and penalties MUCH higher. But it wasn't a racist attack, the person would've done the same thing to a white englishman or south african.

Also, the tennis incidents were performed by Croatian nationals, not Australians and to compare a pitch invader to the people shooting at sri lankans in your own country is a total joke.

People love clutching at straws to criticize Australia, especially playing the race card, but they lack substance most of the time with their arguments.

I applaud the way Pakistanis handled the incident though, full marks to them.

Posted by Ashok Sridharan on (February 3, 2010, 11:37 GMT)

Terrific article Mr. Shafqat. It's quite likely that the attack on the Pakistani player was just the act of a drunken idiot and was not racially motivated. Nevertheless, the fact is that such drunken madmen can indeed wreak havoc. Whatever the motivation behind the incident, CA authorities need to clamp down on rowdy elements to ensure there's no incident like the Monica Seles episode. Imagine someone like Clarke/ Dhoni/ Pietersen having his career finished off by a drunken idiot.

Posted by Andrew on (February 3, 2010, 11:33 GMT)

Please do your research, Australian Football is one of the safest spectator sports in the world where opposing fans, including families sit together with little or no trouble. Comparing a drunk idiot to some of the problems in Pakistan is silly

Posted by Roamer on (February 3, 2010, 11:11 GMT)

I agree mostly with the article and with some of the comments, that Pakistan itself donot strong very highly on these grounds but atleast we all have to admit this was a very serious thing and shouldnot be ignored and brushed under the carpet. Remember what happened to Monica Seles (that attack almost finished her career) so anything could have happened here too but we should appreciate the way Pakistan team management has behaved .... I think this is the first time I am appreciating their actions.

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