This has not been humanity’s greatest week for social cohesion or tolerance. Monday morning found the world reeling from the announcement of the Orlando shootings in a LGBT community nightclub, supposedly inspired by religious extremists in the middle east, the whole week has seen violent clashes between sporting fans attending France’s Euro 2016 football tournament, and on Thursday a British MP was shot and stabbed to death in the street by a fanatic motivated by racist and exclusionary politics.
It is certainly true that several global factors have played into and caused this sense of alienation between peoples, violence being a symptom of social injustice and inequality. Financial turmoil, unnecessary warfare and reactionary political movements have ravaged any common decency across wide swathes of the world. Yet it doesn’t have to be like that – and for me the sport of cricket is good evidence of this.
Of course no sport is completely free of aggression or prejudice; sport is played by people, and people inherently possess these traits, the former especially in a competitive context. However, by contrast with many other social activities and sporting circles, cricket stands out as a genuinely impressive model of inclusivity and tolerance.
People who regularly attend football matches are very accustomed to hearing all manner of abuse from the stands, directed at players, officials or other teams’ fans. Racism, sexism and homophobia are commonplace in chants, and players exchange these insults with one another on a fairly regular basis. It is no longer even surprising when we see this happen in football, despite lots of campaigns to prevent it, such as Kick It Out, which has admittedly helped make racist insults far less common.
Within cricket, by contrast, I have seen a far more diverse mix of players, in part due to the Asian subcontinental and West Indian fondness for the sport, but also down to the stricter and more swift-acting governing body. Scuffles and disagreements do happen on the pitch, but they tend to be about the gameplay. At their worst, insults rarely play on anything particularly sensitive, and when they do those players are rightly sanctioned and ostracised.
Only last week, as an umpire, I had to separate two players who were arguing over a decision and a comment made between them. Yet despite the aggressive tone on the pitch, and the racial differences between them, no personal insults were made and both players were very civil to one another immediately on leaving the field, as well as to me as official in charge. I have myself been involved in some disagreements on the field of play, but these have also been resolved immediately after the game.
Many of my team-mates in a former cricket team were of Pakistani origin, and devoted Muslims. Their brave decision to fast during some of the hottest days of the year (including water!), even on matchdays, was a testament to the dept
h of their faith. Yet despite me being out and proud in the team, even with many of their teachings telling them I was haram in my sexual preferences, they only ever showed me respect as a fellow team-mate, and never criticised my lifestyle or orientation.
By contrast, many Christian families and acquaintances have treated people close to me with prejudice and hatred, sometimes leading to unimaginable pain and suffering. Many of these people accuse immigrants, particularly from the Middle East, of causing problems in their countries. I’m not hating the sinners, just the sin…
In the aftermath of the shootings on Sunday, it has been extremely encouraging to see people of many creeds, backgrounds and sexualities united in mourning the dead and condemning the attacks. I have been proudly wearing my #rainbowlaces from the Stonewall campain of the same name. It is my hope that even if the political situation remains challenging, sports like cricket can continue to bring people together and create empathy and unity.