It’s time to move on

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Senior sportsmen present a myopic view on cricketer Fawad Ahmed’s religious beliefs, despite unstinted support for him from Cricket Australia
It’s a mark of modern times that foreign-born athletes can represent their adopted countries with pride on the sporting field. Indeed, in the 2011 census, it was revealed that over a quarter of the population was born overseas. It’s no surprise that foreign-born athletes have become ubiquitous in all Australian sports, think tennis player Jelena Dokic (Yugoslavia), former Wallaby Clyde Rathbone (South Africa), and boxer Kostya Tszyu (Russia). Australia also recently welcomed its first ever Muslim test cricketer in Usman Khawaja.
But recent comments regarding Fawad Ahmed, who was in 2012 granted asylum as a refugee from Pakistan, serve to remind us that Australian cricket, at all its senior representative levels, has rarely been representative of the varying demographics of its adoring population.
Fawad Ahmed played ten first class matches in Pakistan before fleeing to Australia in 2010 as an asylum seeker. In Pakistan, Ahmed had been involved with a non-government organisation that sought to provide education to women, and this allegedly led to threats being made against him by extremists. After fleeing to Australia, he began playing cricket with Melbourne University and working in a warehouse, but his claim for asylum was initially rejected. It must be noted, however, that heavy support shown by Cricket Australia (CA) led to ministerial intervention through which Ahmed eventually become a permanent resident in late 2012. Ahmed later had his citizenship fast-tracked through the enactment of Commonwealth legislation, lobbied for again, by CA.
CA’s expanded role in promoting an inclusive and more representative culture at the elite level was made even clearer when they first approached Ahmed to ask whether he would be comfortable wearing clothing with the Victoria Bitter logo, given he was a practising Muslim and did not drink alcohol. After Ahmed suggested that he would be uncomfortable wearing the logos, CA produced special uniforms for Ahmed.
And that would have been the end of the matter – but, as happens with those who find themselves in the public spotlight, someone will always have another word to say.
First came the inevitable racist comments on Twitter, which CA Chief Executive James Sutherland appropriately condemned. Indeed, Sutherland expressed that “CA is fully supportive of Fawad’s personal beliefs and he is a valued and popular member of the Australian cricket team and the wider cricket community.” But it was not good enough for some.
Last month, former Australian batsman, Doug Walters, took offence to Ahmed’s choice saying, “I think if he doesn’t want to wear the team gear, he should not be part of the team. Maybe if he doesn’t want to be paid that’s okay”. This formed part of a revealing Daily Telegraph piece that only highlighted the myopic view of some of the country’s other ageing statesmen.
Geoff Lawson, the former fast bowler and Pakistan team coach, thought there were contractual issues that arose, announcing that, “If you don’t agree with the terms you have a choice as to whether you work somewhere else. Players should be able to object on a number of moral grounds… as long as they don’t accept the payments the sponsor provides”.
To begin with, Walters and Lawson both missed the memo from Victoria Bitter themselves. A Carlton & United Breweries (CUB) spokeswoman said, “We support the approach taken in the case of Fawad’s shirt,” and there is no doubting the fact that Ahmed’s declination to wear the sponsor’s logo would have been an absolute blessing for CUB. Ahmed, a quiet, humble, respectful, and as of yet a relatively unknown cricketer, would certainly not have been a marketer’s dream, but VB instead enjoyed a tremendous boost in publicity, ironically as a result of the logo Ahmed wasn’t wearing.
Secondly, Lawson’s comments suggest that by refusing to wear the VB logo, Ahmed was in breach of his contract. It beggars belief that a former coach of the predominantly Muslim Pakistani cricket team could trivialise the issue so readily.
Ahmed reached an agreement with CA not to wear the logo, and it is almost certain that this agreement was honoured in writing within his contract, which lends Lawson’s argument no weight whatsoever. In any case, it does not matter that the agreement may not have been explicitly set out in Ahmed’s initial player’s contract, as the subsequent negotiation and consensus between all parties, including CUB CA and Ahmed, would still have legal effect, whether oral or written. Even great cricketers such as Lawson and Walters would not seek to challenge centuries of common law contract principles.
The best (or worst, depending on how amusing you find his bigotry) comments were made by the former rugby international, David Campese. If you’re struggling to make the connection between Fawad Ahmed, CA and David Campese, don’t worry, others did too. On his Twitter account, Campese applauds Walters, writing, “Well said Doug, Tell him to go home.” When reminded that the South African batsman Hashim Amla also refuses to wear a South African sponsor’s logos for the same reasons, Campese’s retort was certainly worth a read, if for pure entertainment value: “It is SA. Who knows what the deal is. And I don’t care. At least Doug Walter (sic) cares. Which is a start. Great player”. Sutherland denounced Campese’s tweets unequivocally, although the tweets themselves probably discredited the man adequately.
Australia got its cricket from England, but as much as we berate the ‘Whinging Poms’, they’re a generation ahead of us in their attitude towards and acceptance and inclusion of players with foreign backgrounds. Players such as Ravi Bopara, Owais Shah, Monty Panesar, Sajid Mahmood and Adil Rashid are standouts with sub-continental roots. Then there are players with South African backgrounds, including Andrew Strauss, Kevin Pietersen, Jonathan Trott and Matt Prior. There may be a quiet murmur here or there regarding the presence of so many players of South African origin on the team sheet, but if anyone knows how to take pride in their national team, it’s the English.
It is refreshing and exciting to see CA initiatives aimed at increasing cross-cultural awareness and take-up of the game from a grassroots level. CA recently announced that two community rookie contracts would be offered by each BBL team in an effort to “provide opportunities to players who might not otherwise be identified as one of Australian cricket’s pathway programs; players from rural communities, indigenous backgrounds, low socio-economic areas and those from non-English speaking backgrounds.” The CA drive makes sense, many junior representative sides will feature young talents from a variety of backgrounds, but at the higher levels the numbers dwindle. Now, with the likes of Ashton Agar, Gurinder Sandhu and Fawad Ahmed at the highest level, it’s time to cast off the shackles of times gone by.
Because at the end of the day, the best 11 players should represent Australia on the cricket field. It should be enough that a player chooses to represent Australia. After all, since when did wearing a sponsor’s logo make you an Australian? It’s time to move on from the past.

Ritam Mitra
Ritam Mitra
Ritam is an award-winning journalist and lawyer based in Sydney. Ritam writes on domestic and global politics, human rights and social justice, and sport.

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