Photo: Marty MELVILLE / AFP
The sport of cricket is no stranger to racism, be it in the treatment of players by authorities, or exchanges involving racially charged slurs between players. At a recent Test match on December 17, where India played Australia in Adelaide, some remarks made by the Australian commentators have caused widespread anger and led to accusations of casual racism.
Former Australian leg-spinner Shane Warne, on air with Fox Cricket during the first session on day one, referred to Indian cricketer Cheteshwar Pujara as “Steve”. He also went on to discuss how Cheteshwar is “not the easiest name to pronounce” and thus he chose to stick to the nickname Pujara was given by his teammates at the Yorkshire County Cricket Club in the U.K., where he was signed as an overseas professional in 2017.
Warne perhaps didn’t realise that trying to pass off names of people of colour as an inconvenience and assigning unwanted nicknames to them is a classic form of name-based microaggression, as research has shown. Ethnic names represent people’s culture and identity, and being at the receiving end of such discriminatory treatment can cause them anxiety and frustration with their own name.
In a 2018 interview, Pujara himself had shared how he was assigned this nickname and how it baffled him. “Well I would prefer Cheteshwar, but it's difficult to pronounce so the guys have come up with Steve. But personally, I would prefer Cheteshwar,” he told ESPN. “Jack Brooks started off with this. He couldn't pronounce my first name so he was asking me what nickname I have. I said I don't have any. So they said, ‘we will start calling you Steve’. Initially, they started calling me ‘Puj’, but they have started calling me Steve again. It's a good nickname, but I prefer Cheteshwar.”
While Warne’s comments were in bad taste and brought up a name Pujara clearly isn’t comfortable with, they also couldn’t have come at a worst time. Only on December 5, former England under-19 captain Azeem Rafiq had claimed he was racially targeted during his stint at Yorkshire, which led him to suicidal ideation. He had even called the club a hub for “institutional racism”. After the club promised to review their culture and launched an independent investigation to look into Rafiq’s initial complaints in August, the former player also filed a legal complaint against the club on grounds of racial discrimination.
The law firm representing Rafiq, Chadwick Lawrence, said the claim, which has gone to the Leeds Employment Tribunal, elucidates the “expressly racist dressing room banter” Rafiq and other non-white players experienced. This included the use of terms such as “P**i”, “elephant washer”, and telling such players to “go back where you came from”, the firm said.
These aren’t isolated incidents, but seem to form only part of the long track record of racism by players and other staff at the cricket club. According to ESPNcricinfo, two former employees — Taj Butt and Tony Bowry — had also recently provided evidence to substantiate Rafiq’s claims. Butt, who was employed as a community development officer at the Yorkshire Cricket Foundation, resigned within six weeks of joining, because of the targeted language used at the club.
“(There were) continuous references to taxi drivers and restaurant workers when referring to (the) Asian community,” he told ESPNcricinfo. “They called every person of colour ‘Steve’. Even (Indian batsman) Cheteshwar Pujara, who joined as an overseas professional, was called Steve because they could not pronounce his name.”
Bowry, who worked at the club as a coach and then as a cultural diversity officer at the Yorkshire Cricket Board, shared how racism affected the performance of young players and hindered their progress at the game.
Before the beginning of the Test match against India, the Australian cricket team formed a “barefoot circle” to demonstrate their opposition to racism and appreciation towards Australia’s indigenous cultures. But such efforts are set back by ignorant remarks such as those made by Warne.
While Pujara or others from either side of the game are yet to react, cricket fans on Twitter wasted no time in calling Warne out and asking him to do better.
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