By Gautam Chintamani
The International Cricket Council’s decision to allow the West Indies cricket team to sport a ‘Black Lives Matter’ emblem on the collars of their shirts during their upcoming Test series against England has expectedly raised hell in India.
Absolutely nothing wrong with it. Yet, social media platforms were abuzz since the ICC put out the news and people from all over India called out the dual standards of cricket’s top governing body.
A flurry of criticism laden reactions accused ICC of hypocrisy as it did not allow MS Dhoni to wear the ‘Balidan’ insignia of the Para Regiment, an outfit that Dhoni had joined when he officially became an honorary Lieutenant Colonel in the Territorial Army (TA) in 2011.
While the ICC had cited a rule of not allowing players to convey ‘political, religious or racial activities or causes’ messages in international matches for not allowing Dhoni, it seems to have done a complete U-turn this time around.
During the first press conference of the English tour, West Indian captain Jason Holder issued a statement, that made it apparent how his team was considering supporting the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in some way: "We believe we have a duty to show solidarity and also to help raise awareness.”
The logo that the West Indies team would sport has also be worn on all 20 Premier League football clubs in the United Kingdom. The logo was designed by Alisha Hosannah, the partner of Troy Deeney, the captain of Watford Football Club. The designer was reportedly contacted by Cricket West Indies (CWI) and approved by ICC.
During the 2019 World Cup, the MS Dhoni glove insignia controversy, the ICC had also stated that it hadn’t been contacted for prior permission either by the player or the Board of Cricket Control for India (BCCI).
Later when BCCI did approach for permission, the ICC refused the request because the regulations for international events did not permit any individual message or logo to be displayed on any items of clothing or equipment.
ICC’s stance in the lead-up to the West Indian team displaying the ‘BLM’ logo had cricket’s apex regulatory body saw that the implementation of regulations concerning the demonstration solidarity with the movement was operated by what they called a ‘common-sense approach’ and was assessed on a ‘case-by-case basis’.
The ICC has a long history of being comparatively stringent when it comes to penalising players non-white players. Incidents involving players across cricketing nations indulge in improper conduct both on and off the field have seen a different set of rules being applied.
Take, for instance, Shakib Al Hasan, who was handed a two-year ban by ICC for not reporting corrupt approaches by bookies in October 2019. When compared to what happened in 1994-95 when Australian cricketers Shane Warne and Mark Waugh were given money by a bookmaker in return for pitch and weather information on Australia's tour of Sri Lanka gives an insight into how different set of rules are applied to different players.
The news of Warne and Waugh was not made public until 1998 and Cricket Australia only privately fined the two players.
Once the story became public the ‘cover-up’ got a lot of press but even then the ICC did not take action against Warne and Waugh.
The Indian subcontinent is the biggest market for cricket. Consequently, certain actions of the ICC are also a way to maintain dominance over cricket in Asia.
It’s not as if Dhoni decided overnight to sport the Para Regiment’s insignia for a match. The former India captain was commissioned into the elite Para Regiment and completed the mandatory training that included airborne jumps that qualify him to wear the Balidaan Badge.
Even when Dhoni was conferred with the Padma Bhushan, he wore his uniform to receive the third highest civilian honour in India from President Ram Nath Kovind.
Indian cricket fans are not opposing the ‘BLM’ logo, but calling out ICC’s double standards on the issue.
The ICC’s reaction to fans slamming its decision to allow West Indies cricket team to wear BLM logo has also been strange, to say the least. The body’s official Twitter handle blocked a few people who called out the hypocrisy.
While one is not commenting on which social issue should be allowed or not allowed to be highlighted by sportspersons, there cannot be a different set of rules for issues that go beyond cricket.
Is it too much to expect a semblance of balance from the ICC on issues beyond the sport when its actions that directly concern cricket have continually reeked of hypocrisy, and dare one say, racism?