As racism is playing a prominent role in the current turbulent times, it's worth reflecting on my experience of prejudice in and around cricket.
As a youngster growing up in a family where there was no notable prejudice, despite being in the era of the White Australia Policy, I wasn't really aware of racism. I had the good fortune to commence my Sheffield Shield career in the same team as champion West Indian allrounder Garry Sobers. That was a wonderful education in both cricket and life.
My first overseas tour was to South Africa in 1966-67 and it was an eye-opener. The apartheid regime was in power and we got a taste of its abhorrent nature after winning the second Test in Cape Town. "Why don't you pick Garry Sobers? Then you'll have a team full of blacks" was the offensive comment directed at Australian batsman Grahame Thomas by an ignorant patron in the team hotel. Thomas has Native American lineage dating back to the days of slavery. Sensibly he walked away from any confrontation.
As captain in 1972-73, prior to commencing a home series against Pakistan and then touring the Caribbean, I spoke to the Australian players. I warned them if there were any terms of address prefixed by the word "black", there would be trouble. I said: "You don't call someone a lucky white bastard, so why include the word 'black' in any outburst?" I never heard any such comments from those Australian players.
In 1975-76, my brother Greg captained Australia against West Indies. In a book published after the series, Viv Richards suggested there had been some racially prejudiced comments. I asked Greg, who had a similar outlook to me, if he'd heard any such and he said, "No". I later spoke to Viv on the subject and he said he was referring to one player and assured me that it had all been sorted out.
In 1972 I played in a double-wicket contest in Zimbabwe. On a rest day a few players were drinking in the back bar at the Victoria Falls hotel. We had been there a while when the proprietor suddenly told Basil D'Oliveira, a South African-born Cape Coloured man who played for England, that he had to leave the bar. I asked why.
"I said: "You don't call someone a lucky white bastard, so why include the word 'black' in any outburst?"
"Because he's been swearing in front of my wife," came the unconvincing reply. "Turn it up, mate," I responded. "There's a few of us been swearing, why pick on Basil?" The man insisted that Basil was the only one swearing, so we all put our unfinished beers on the bar and walked out.
During the 1975-76 tour of South Africa by a mixed-race International Wanderers side managed by Richie Benaud and captained by Greg, we travelled to a ground outside Port Elizabeth to watch players of colour who weren't allowed to compete in the Currie Cup competition because of South Africa's apartheid laws. John Shepherd, who played for West Indies and Kent, and is of the most gentle people on this earth, was part of our side. As we were leaving, a member of the crowd shouted out: "Why don't you paint yourself white, Shepherd, and then you can be like the rest of them."
Shep stopped abruptly and turned to face the crowd with a withering glare. I happened to be next to him. I grabbed his arm and said: "You don't have to put up with this - let's leave."
Shep's arm was as firm as a steel rod, but without redirecting his glare he simply said: "You keep going. I'll be there in a minute." Then as a reassurance he added: "There won't be any trouble."
I had another experience of the harmful effects of racism in Jamaica in 1991. At a television forum there, the moderator introduced the subject of the ICC. In answer to a question I said the power of veto that Australia and England held over ICC decisions was a disgrace and should have been abolished long ago. I did not anticipate that many in the audience would be aware there was a power of veto, but the crowd burst into applause. That made a mockery of the standard reply from Australian cricket administrators when that particular issue was brought up: "The power of veto has never been used, so why would it upset anyone?"
This is the sad reality of racism. What is implied often cuts deepest.