By: Sarwar Alam
LEADING Asian MPs and commentators have condemned racist attacks on Asian fans watching the fifth Test between England and India at Edgbaston on Monday (4), which left some “literally in tears”.
Footage shared on Twitter showed India supporters being targeted with abuse such as “you smelly P****”. One fan, Anil Sehmi, who said he was the official dhol (drum) player for the Bharat Army, tweeted: “Racist behaviour at Edgbaston towards Indian fans in Block 22 Eric Hollies. People calling us ‘curry c****’ and ‘P*** b*******’.
“We reported it to the stewards and showed them the culprits at least 10 times, but no response and all we were told is to sit in our seats.
“We had women literally in tears when @ECB_cricket fans were threatening us. Slitting their throats looking at us, calling us all sorts of names.”
A British Asian supporting India described to Eastern Eye the racist abuse he faced at Edgbaston, and how he was victim-blamed when he raised the issue with stewards.
“The atmosphere was really hostile. We were being abused, not just racially, but during the first half of the day, when we were being abused by some fans who were giving us the finger and calling us w******.
“We told the stewards about it, but they said we were antagonising them, which is completely untrue and unacceptable.
“Later, it escalated and the stewards told us to sit down and not make any noise and to not play our drums, while the England bands were allowed to carry on playing and giving us stick and abuse.
“The abuse then just got worse with some of them singing ‘you smelly P***’ and ‘we ruled your country’.
“When we complained to the stewards, they did nothing.”
The Labour MP Preet Gill, in whose constituency the match was being played, said she wasn’t surprised by these incidents, adding that “the government has not done enough to address hate crime in the country”.
“We’ve seen the increase in hate crime and sport seems to be the place where we see a lot of these sorts of attitudes and remarks,” Gill told Eastern Eye.
“We’ve got to do much more in terms of tackling this. We’ve got to make sure this is taken seriously. There needs to be a proper investigation and action from the ECB [England and Wales Cricket Board] that shows they will not tolerate this at any of their venues.”
Gulfraz Riaz, chairman of the National Asian Cricket Council (NACC), condemned the actions of the stewards as “totally unacceptable”.
“Once it was picked up by the steward near the stand, it should have been reported to the head steward,” he told Eastern Eye. “And subsequently, like other grounds, there is a task force that can evict people for drunken behaviour or racial abuse. If the task force isn’t there, then obviously you can call the police as well. What I’ve heard and what I’ve read is that these actions weren’t followed.
“Now it’s a matter for the team at Edgbaston to identify these individuals from photographic evidence, videos, CCTV footage, and even knowing who had purchased these seats, and to take firm and affirmative action and look to prosecute these individuals.”
Gill said she will meet Edgbaston chief executive Stuart Cain, the ECB and if needed, would raise the matter with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
The West Midlands Police on Tuesday (5) said they were liaising with officials at Edgbaston. Inquiries are being made to identify an alleged offender whose image was circulated on social media.
Shaista Aziz, a journalist and Labour councillor, said on Twitter she was at the match with her friend, fellow journalist Matthew Stadlen, when someone referred to her as ‘P***’ when speaking to Stadlen.
“The man’s casual racism and use of the P word – which he whispered while leaning into Matt to describe people ‘like me’, was disgusting. Matt dealt with him and we walked away to enjoy rest of our evening,” she said.
Meanwhile, Cain apologised for the “distress” caused and said anyone prosecuted as a result of the police investigation will be banned from Edgbaston, and the ECB will also ban them from all other cricket venues nationwide.
The Labour MP Tan Dhesi said the DCMS needs to investigate the incidents as a matter of urgency.
“After the findings from the police investigation, the DCMS does need to intervene as well to make sure that cricketing authorities change their systems, that we cannot have institutionalised racism in any of our society,” he told Eastern Eye.
“The ECB needs to take urgent action, they must go further than what they have done so far. And it must happen further and faster.
“An elegant game like cricket does not need individuals who are consumed with so much hatred. If they are able to get away with such racist behaviour, either as players, as coaches or as fans, it will nearly bring the game into disrepute and will lessen its appeal.”
Gill expressed her concern over how “little progress” had been made since Azeem Rafiq’s testimony in front of a DCMS select committee about the “racial harassment and bullying” he faced while playing for Yorkshire.
“Azeem Rafiq made lots of suggestions and recommendations as to what needed to change. We now need … to make sure this is not just a government that speaks words and the rhetoric, as we’ve seen it, but it’s one that knows it’s going to act and we’ve got to hold them to account.”
In his testimony, Rafiq said cricket was blighted by institutional racism “up and down the country”.
He spoke of constantly being referred to as “P***” and comments such as ‘you’ll sit over there near the toilets’, and ‘elephant-washers’.
He said he felt let down by authorities when he approached them, describing the PCA [Professional Cricketers’ Association] as “incredibly inept” and added that the ECB needed “a reset of their morals and values – simple as that”.
Asked if such racist incidents will deter British Asians from attending matches, Riaz said: “I don’t think so, because the passion for cricket is there.
“We’re encouraging more families to visit with their children. We’re encouraging people of all backgrounds to visit and watch cricket.
“So we hope it’s an isolated incident. It’s probably related to alcohol consumption and that’s not excusing the behaviour. That’s something authorities need to have a look at, especially in environments where there are family stands and where children will be.
“The Asian cricketing community will be looking at how this matter is addressed from here. Firm affirmative action with prosecution and bans, if proven with evidence, should be inevitable.”
Councillor Navin Shah, who was at Edgbaston, agreed that Asians wouldn’t turn the backs on the game, but urged the ECB to “get their act together quickly” and tackle the root cause of the problems or it could lead to long lasting divisions.
“I believe that we are very resilient. I think this generation of Asians are able resolve issues by engaging and addressing them rather than being deterred entirely,” Shah told Eastern Eye.
“But you don’t want these incidents to lead to unnecessary confrontation or deep divides. And that is where I think the ECB need to handle this sensitively.
“They need to look at Yorkshire and ask whether it’s mirrored elsewhere in the country. The other questions are, how deep down it is? Is it causing barriers? Is it causing young Asian or African people from progressing? And the only way to do this is to engage with Asian communities and Asian cricket clubs. They need to reach out at a grassroots level, to see how far the problem persists. Unless this is done, it will destroy the spirit of the game.”
In a statement, the ECB said: “We are very concerned to hear reports of racist abuse at today’s Test match. We are in contact with colleagues at Edgbaston who will investigate. There is no place for racism in cricket.”