September 11, 2013

The Fawad question

Why the controversy surrounding Fawad Ahmed has nothing to do with sponsorship. Or drinking

By the time many of you read this, I will be sitting on a tiny plastic seat at Edgbaston, enjoying the sunshine, or sheltering under an umbrella waiting for Mr Duckworth and Mr Lewis, or possibly even wading back to the car park, dodging paddling ducks, arks and water-skiers. The weather guessers are non-committal at this stage, having opted to put clouds across the whole of the middle of England and hope for the best.

If I do see cricket, one of the players I'm looking forward to watching is Fawad Ahmed, although obviously, if he isn't wearing the logo of a certain grain-fermentation concern on his shirt, it will spoil my enjoyment. As Doug Walters pointed out recently, if a bloke doesn't want to wear the name of some beer or other on his breast, then a bloke ought to ask himself whether he's the sort of bloke who really belongs with the other blokes.

At least, I think that was the gist of it. It may have come as a surprise to Fawad, having been called up to play for Australia, to find that he was in fact representing a Fizzy Beer XI that just happened to have a Cricket Australia badge on their shirts.

At first, I thought it was odd that Doug was worked up about some corporation having to forego 1/11th of its on-field ad space, given that the company concerned doesn't seem that bothered. There has been some doom-laden talk from marketing types about the implications of allowing a player to exercise a moral choice, but these are the same sort of people who told us that the world of sport would collapse if deprived of the grubby money of cigarette hawkers, and who look at cricket in the same way that a botfly looks at a cow.

Then I thought maybe this is about alcohol and culture. As well as playing cricket for Australia, Doug Walters is, apparently, famous for having drunk some beer on an aeroplane during the 1970s. Is this the indignation of the beer lover at the treason of abstinence?

I'm not familiar with Australian culture, but in Britain, cricket drinking is not just tolerated but positively encouraged, particularly by ground authorities who flog their watery beverages at a handsome profit with little regard to the consequences. Go to any Test match in England and by mid-afternoon, large swathes of the crowd have regressed in evolutionary terms and find their entertainment by inserting one empty plastic beer cup inside another, clapping delightedly each time this feat is accomplished, like chimpanzees learning a new skill.

But it seems that this Fawad alarm didn't have much to do with drinking, either. It was left to David Campese, who I am informed used to chase a rugby ball around a field for a living, to fill in the blanks. He took to Twitter to invite Fawad to "go home".

Campese scuttled back under his rock soon after, from where he tweeted a sort of apology, among a cloud of nonsense about sport being a team game and blah blah blah. Of course, an apology is the polite thing to do, but the question is, why say something like that in the first place? Much fun is made of England's reliance on South African-born immigrants, but they are never invited to get back where they came from with such vehemence.

Sacha Baron Cohen once said that when he was playing the anti-semitic character Borat, people around him seemed to feel much more at ease about expressing prejudiced opinions. So perhaps, at a time when Australia's political parties are falling over themselves in their competition to see who can be the most unpleasant towards immigrants, ordinary citizens and former rugby players may feel freer to vent their own xenophobia.

But in the long run, this is a good thing. We all have some dark corners of our brain where the sunlight of rationality has not fallen for some time. By putting his thoughts out there, Campese, and those who think along the same lines, have had their bigotry exposed, and hopefully will use this opportunity to reflect on just why they have a problem with a man called Fawad, or indeed a man called Usman, wearing an Australian shirt.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets here