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Dhaka Tribune

A reality check at Edgbaston

Amidst the euphoria of England’s new brand of exciting Test cricket, the atmosphere was tarnished with allegations of racist language being used by a minority of England supporters during the Edgbaston Test against India

Update : 18 Jul 2022, 11:48 PM

There was a scene of mild chaos at Euston station, as cricket fans wondered why there was no platform indicated for the 07.52 to Birmingham New Street. Late running trains and a general inefficiency of the rail network was the most mundane aspect of a day trip to Edgbaston. A memorable day but not always for the right reasons.

The fact that it was a Sunday made little difference to the levels of alcohol consumption at the ground, as evidenced by the bar queues behind the Hollies stand. The stand itself was a riot of noise, fancy dress, and what seemed like genuine camaraderie between fans. 

A group of Indian and England fans were literally dancing in the aisles, led by a man dressed in an unerringly convincing Indian police uniform. The frenetic beats from the drummer banging his dhol was the only thing audible above the din of whooping and cheering. A middle-aged Indian supporter was sat next to me, without a trace of self-consciousness, he proclaimed that the sight of revelers, joining in a procession of Punjabi-style bhangra dancing, would be unimaginable even 20 years ago.

I took it as a declaration of progress. And as the evening session went on, the singing got louder and strangers exchanged views on the state of play, and I felt a sense of fuzzy warm belonging. Copious amounts of booze, box office cricket, and perhaps the release of being unshackled from the dark days of the pandemic, had combined to create something unique.

But that illusion was jarringly shattered just a few hours later. 

I managed to scramble onto one of the last shuttle buses from the ground to Birmingham New Street station. As I idly stared into my phone, I was subconsciously aware of a loud but small group sitting nearby; presumably they had been drinking all day. I was desperately trying to avoid tuning into the wavelength of their conversation until I had no choice but to. Whatever sentence was being slurred, the two words that ended it felt like a slap. Not the kind of slap that requires medical attention, but the kind that grazes the skin and leaves an indelible mark.

“Smelly Paki” is a phrase that invariably everyone of South Asian descent living in the UK will have had directed at them, at least once in their lives. It’s pernicious and dehumanizing, which is exactly why it’s the vocabulary of choice for so many racists. Apologists will invariably point towards drunkenness as a means to excuse it, and debate the degree of offence caused. This of course entirely misses the point. The normalizing of racist language, used in any context, simply cannot be justified.

The disturbing number of racist incidents reported at Edgbaston from Monday's play, highlights an undercurrent of discrimination, which the authorities have been struggling to address, ever since the Azeem Rafique racism scandal came to light. Social media has proved to be an invaluable tool in calling out racist behaviour.

The easiest thing to do when confronted with racist behaviour is nothing, and that’s precisely what the other passengers on the shuttle bus did. 

So much of the heavy lifting when it comes to challenging racism falls on the shoulders of the victim. 

And yet there’s always a nagging checklist of self-doubt when you feel victimized; did I hear things correctly? Maybe I’m being too sensitive? Maybe they didn’t mean it? All of those questions rushed through my mind as I weighed up the consequences of challenging the faceless person sat a few seats behind me.

Ultimately and rather depressingly, sometimes there’s the practical need to choose your battles in the face of discrimination. The prospect of an elongated argument and a missed train home didn’t seem like an attractive one at the time. I figuratively turned the other cheek and pondered the downside of my decision for my entire journey home. 

Doing nothing is not a sustainable position and never will be. Azeem Rafique has demonstrated the importance of calling out racism. It is the only way to change entrenched views.

Interestingly, many of those reporting racist incidents at Edgbaston on day four, have linked Azeem into their social media posts. It’s unlikely that Azeem set out to be the figurehead for anti-racist campaigning in cricket, but that is where we are today. Using his clout to shine a light on how much more needs to be done to tackle the scourge of racism, can only benefit the entire game.

As for my trip to Edgbaston, the brilliance of Bairstow and the genius of Joe Root, will always be tainted by the acts of one moronic racist.

Tawhid Qureshi is a cricket writer and journalist based in the UK, he has contributed pieces to BBC online, Wisden and The Cricketer Magazine. He also runs the Sight Screen Cricket Journal, his twitter handle is @SightScreenCJ.

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