February 2, 2010

Australia must get its house in order

Cricket Australia ought to consider banning alcohol at matches. It has gone well beyond a joke

Australia needs to start addressing the real issues. Indian students killed in Melbourne, Pakistanis assaulted on the field in Perth, blazing headlines around the world, a nation's reputation dragged into the mud, and never mind that the PM is fluent in Cantonese and that many settlers from Africa and the Punjab and elsewhere are as happy as mankind can be. It cannot continue, in cricket or outside.

Cricket is no better or worse than the world it inhabits. Australia has many fine people and fine things, not least the ability to get on with life come hell or high water and look every man in the eye. However, our country also has a dark side that includes a racism that cannot be denied and a fondness for grog that goes beyond taste. A lot of people drink not for pleasure but for the stories told next day. Indeed, drunkenness is glorified. What else is Schoolies Week?

Cricket inhabits a fraught and fractured world, and every nation needs to be on guard. Australia is not alone in its dubious elements but it has a powerful voice and a strong team, and so tends to attract both high praise and harsh censure. Moreover, it is a predominantly Anglo-Saxon nation, and needs to be mindful that other countries spent hundreds of years under the yoke and have emerged with acute sensitivities. And every nation has its pride, especially those whose spirit was long suppressed. Cricket is not played by Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

All the more reason for Australian cricket to put its house in order. Even the attacks on the Indians in Melbourne required a response. After all, India is a close friend, war ally, trading partner and respected cricketing rival. For that matter, it is Australia's best-loved opponent. Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid are often greeted hereabouts with sustained ovations that take them by surprise and tell of a country friendlier than it seems.

It's no use Australians pointing out that the Indian students have been attacked by small gangs of malcontents or that they are also assaulted in Durban, or that Indians themselves are far from perfect, or that most Australians are hospitable. The attacks happen, make headlines, reinforce a caricature and need to be confronted. Shane Warne had the right idea. Australians cricketers ought to become messengers of peace and harmony. And the same applies to Indian cricketers. They cannot sit back and watch the game implode.

Strong action needs to be taken against all racism. Recently, a Canadian school banned its own team for the rest of the season after racist remarks were made by its players. Australia needs to avoid defensive thinking and make tolerance a national asset. Cricket Australia has taken steps in that direction at home and abroad, and the game is becoming more diverse. But for an injury Usman Khawaja might have been taken to New Zealand next month - he is an excellent batsman and popular young man. However, CA remains a bastion of old white males, and that needs to change.

CA ought not to tiptoe around the issue. Many of us have complained about the fuss made about minor matters such as beach balls. Behind the wheel and in sporting crowds, hot-headed young males are the problem.

As far as the immediate incident in Perth is concerned, the issues are both national and local. Night matches invite drinking and its aftermath. Everyone knows it's not safe to drink and drive. The truth is, though, it's not safe to drink and do anything. CA ought to consider banning alcohol at matches. It has gone well beyond a joke.

Nor can the WACA escape retribution. By all accounts, it omits to apply the safety codes advised by CA. In that case, it does not deserve to stage any matches under CA's auspices. Plain and simple, the attack on the Pakistanis was dangerous, and insufficient steps were taken to prevent it. Heads rolled when Delhi provided a rotten pitch. Heads ought to roll after incidents of this sort.

By the same token, Pakistan or India cannot complain too long about these matters. At such times it is wise to ignore the stirrers on television, radio or in politics, and every nation has them as well. Better to chart a path forwards than to pour oil on troubled waters. Cricketers do not go to Pakistan because a team was attacked and players were almost killed. A few drunks in Perth are bad but not to be compared to terrorists.

As the strongest cricket nation in the world, with a sturdy structure and a large pool of superb players, Australia has a wonderful chance to lead the way towards the respect between races and religions that has long been the primary aim of the broad-minded. To that end, Australia needs to confront not the event but the cause, not other nations but itself. As far as drink and race are concerned, CA ought to be pro-active not reactive. Meanwhile Pakistan can be given an apology, a warm welcome in Melbourne and a promise that the authorities in Perth will be called to account.

This article has been reproduced with permission from the Sydney Morning Herald.

Peter Roebuck is a former captain of Somerset and the author, most recently, of In It to Win It

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Neil on February 3, 2010, 11:21 GMT

    Typical Roebuck rubbish. Exaggeration with no substance. There are problems in all countries, including racism. About time the tall poppy syndrome went on to India as well, regardless of the centre of cricket power and PR being there. If you start fencing people in here, spectators will no longer attend and cricket will start losing out on its current position of strong interest. We have a different heritage here. Just introduce higher fines first and thereaten state cricket authorities (WA for one) with not seeing any further games held there if they won't cooperate.

  • Ankush on February 3, 2010, 6:44 GMT

    The issue about this article is that do not compare Drunk australians to Terrorists, What would be the case if tommorrow someone brings in a knife and stab someone.. or even this tackle could have caused him to die. There is no streaking in India or Pakistan during international matched as they do not allow alcohol during games and and to tackle the issues in past, Indians have already done well enough to put nets so people can't throw stuff. So don't blame Indians of being same as these drunk people

  • Steve on February 3, 2010, 6:28 GMT

    No doubt the goodie two shoes running this nanny country will eventually ban grog at cricket venues, footy venues and the like, just like our parks and beaches and once again an extremely small minority will have spoiled it for the vast majority. Most people are reasonable with their drinking and the the only result is a huge increase in the 'atmosphere' of the place. No Peter, Australia, contrary to what the rest of the cricket world thinks, does not carry the burden of all that is good and right about the game, it is a joint responsibility. Other countries have for too long lambasted Aussie cricket and its cricketers and condoned their own for similar conduct offences. I wonder what the cricket world would have made of it if Ponting had of taken a bite out of a cricket ball?

  • Vikram on February 3, 2010, 5:53 GMT

    Boooooooooring. Roebuck has sunk lower than before. I read a couple of lines and knew where the rest of article was headed. It's almost become a norm to pander to the Indian cricket team, anything remotely related to it and the gargantuan system that feeds off it. I doubt whether Roebuck really cares about the Pakistani cricketers. He has just used that link to weave together unrelated facts and sensationalize an article. I am an Indian and find such articles amusing.

  • Johnny on February 3, 2010, 5:53 GMT

    I hope the person responsible is caned on the buttocks.

  • Kannan on February 3, 2010, 5:17 GMT

    What's with all these Aussies attacking PR? Let's read beyond the words and get a grip of what he's actually saying. Security is a concern today more than before, so if it's going to be perimeter fencing and/or alcohol ban, so be it. More importantly, as the stage and stakes are bigger and when there's more money into showing support, hooliganism is bound to set in and one need not look beyond soccer to see the trend in mass popular sports. There's tons of truth on Aussie racism and their 'living in denial'. All one that has to do is to look at the sheer number of crimes against Indians in Australia and the way it has shot up from the previous years. Does anybody here care to put up the numbers and get a reality check? How is a Aussie pitch invader a clown, while a few Indian fans (of the several tens of thousands) caricaturing a monkey not clowninsh? In fact it was the Aussie media that made an issue of it! And before you guys say "oh those Indians", hold a mirror and look at it!

  • Sal on February 3, 2010, 4:41 GMT

    A reasonably well-balanced article. However, this incident in Perth was probably driven by alcohol rather than racism. Like Ricky Ponting I was sickened by this incident. Fortunately this field invader was nothing more than a drunken clown. And fortunately he was not armed with any weapon such as knife. What annoyed me was that the security failed by letting this drunk get to the player. I realise that most people drink responsibly, however I do agree with Mr Roebuck that CA should consider banning alcohol at matches. Yes, this is a big statement and yes it may reduce crowd numbers. However, it will only take one serious act of drunken stupidity to tarnish Australias cricketing reputation. In Perth nothing serious eventuated out of the tackle, but had the player been injured then the cricketing world would have concerns about safety at Australian grounds. I had been going to games at the Gabba for over 25 years. Now I no longer go because I am sick of people spilling beer all over me.

  • Joseph on February 3, 2010, 4:33 GMT

    So well informed. The PM speaks Mandarin (Putonghua) not Cantonese. Perhaps to Mr. Roebuck "they all sound alike".

  • raghav on February 3, 2010, 4:27 GMT

    Really, Mr. Roebuck? I am not sure what you have against Aussie cricket. Anything they do seems to be wrong. I cannot understand how this pitch invasion by one person has become an 'attack on pak. player'. I am not sure if the invader had a enmity towards Latif, and Latif did not have a great day. It was simply the case of first-player-in-the-path. Now don't go and tie up this to racism. Have you forgotten the Eden gardens WC semi-final '96? I dont think the spectators were drunk then.

  • John on February 3, 2010, 4:22 GMT

    Spanky's (look up Roebuck and his brush with the English law at Taunton ) pious, and long standing anti Australian rhetoric in cricketing matters is legend. When are you going to condemn Afridi's attempted dental disintegration, support Daryl Hair for upholding the Laws of Cricket and comment on Bedi's evaluation that Harbhajan is a CHUKKER ? (Times of India article of today) and that the doorsra cannot be delivered within the law. How about just for once you fall on the side of the laws of cricket and write an article that actually analyses the pattern of sustained Sub Continental attempts to bend the rules.

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