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Mediation option in new anti-racism code

Ajay S Shankar

October 13, 2009

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Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds had a quieter day after their third-day confrontation, Australia v India, 2nd Test, Sydney, 4th day, January 5, 2008
The racism charge against Harbhajan Singh nearly led to India calling off the tour of Australia in 2007-08 © Getty Images
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The ICC has included a mediation process in its new anti-racism code to help cricketers settle such conflicts amicably between themselves. This mediation process, which will be the first step towards any resolution if agreed upon within 48 hours of the incident being reported, could lead to voluntary suspensions and a public apology.

The ICC board approved the new anti-racism code on October 6, more than a year after the controversial incident between Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds in Australia that nearly led to India pulling out of the tour. The enhanced code includes a conciliation procedure to prevent "confusion, misunderstanding, ignorance or language and translation barriers" that could lead to such disputes. The code has also been supported by the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations (FICA), the players' lobby group, which termed it a "superior process" and one that "promotes a better understanding of the whole issue of racism".

The issue of racism in cricket came to the fore last January, when Symonds accused Harbhajan of calling him a monkey during the second Test in Sydney. The Indian off-spinner was ultimately cleared after the BCCI's legal team argued that the offensive word in question was a Hindi term that had no racial connotations. In this case, the matter was first heard by the match referee, Mike Procter, who imposed a three-Test ban on Harbhajan; the sentence was overturned by an ICC-nominated inquiry commission after the Indian board appealed.

It's believed that it was Cricket Australia that subsequently pushed for the inclusion of mediation as an intermediate step in such cases before the disciplinary process. The ICC, however, is clear that it would be unfair and misleading to imply that the improved code is a direct response to one specific incident; rather, it's the result of a full and comprehensive review.

"It was felt that alleged issues of racism across the wide range of cultures that make up cricket's group of stakeholders could arise out of confusion, misunderstanding, ignorance or language and translation barriers," James Fitzgerald, the ICC spokesperson, told Cricinfo. "In those cases, provided both parties agreed, it was felt that the best way to resolve them was through a non-adversarial process such as a conciliation with an expert in the field. If that fails to resolve the matter satisfactorily for all parties, then we go back to the disciplinary process."

Tim May, the FICA chief executive, said the mediation process allows better player understanding of the related issues. "We have studied other models in other sports and the preferred models are those that offer a process of mediation as the initial stage of addressing these issues," May told Cricinfo. "It provides the opportunity for the vilified player to explain to the other player, why such vilification causes offence. It promotes a better understanding of the whole issue of the issue of racism. We believe that it is a superior process than one which just relies on sanctions to address the issue."

The new anti-racism code specifies that the mediation process has to be agreed to by all parties involved within 48 hours of the incident being reported, including the ICC, or the usual disciplinary process will be initiated. In case of mediation, the code states: "The ICC shall appoint one independent conciliator who will oversee the conciliation sitting alone. For the avoidance of doubt, the appointed conciliator may be from a country participating in the international match during, or in relation to which, the alleged offence was committed, provided that the conciliator remains independent of the relevant parties and the ICC at all times."

Apart from the conciliator and players or team support staff members involved, the process will also include a representative of the ICC's legal department and either captain, vice captain or manager of both sides to provide support and assistance.

The conciliator will "discuss the circumstances of the alleged offence with the relevant parties and explore the possibility of reaching a consensual resolution". The sanctions such a process could lead to include a "voluntary imposition of a period of suspension", public or private apologies and an agreement to undertake a specified counseling programme.

If the process fails, disciplinary procedures will begin and that could lead various sanctions ranging from a minimum of four suspension points leading up to a lifetime ban, and a mandatory counseling procedure. For instance, one suspension point amounts to a ban of one ODI or Twenty20 international and two such points could lead to a one-Test ban.

As per the new code, the ICC has empowered the umpires, the match referee, the team manager or chief executive of either of the two national boards involved and the ICC CEO to report an alleged offence. However, the code does not cover spectators who are still bound by the existing requirements of the existing anti-racism policy for ICC members. In such cases, offenders can be ejected from the ground, or even banned for life from the venue, and identified on camera to be included in a database to enable prosecution as per local law.

Ajay Shankar is a deputy editor at Cricinfo

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