Tone-deaf Cummins criticism misses the mark

The treatment of Australia’s Test captain by some Australian cricket fans is a blight not just on cricket, but on society

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It is often said that things can go downhill quickly during a Test match in India. It’s an adage that is especially true for the Australian cricket team, whose recent tours to India are a veritable catalogue of controversy and scandal, with a generous dose of red faces. Such is Australia’s track record in the subcontinent that its dismal performance so far on its current tour of India should come as little surprise. Even so, large swathes of the Australian public appear to lay the blame on the “wokeness” of Australia’s Test captain, Pat Cummins.

Cummins attracted significant criticism last year for raising ethical objections to Cricket Australia about its major sponsor, Alinta Energy – one of Australia’s largest greenhouse gas emitters.

At the time, Cummins explained his decision not to appear in Alinta Energy advertisements as one of principle: “My generation and people around that are passionate about different things. They are open-minded to things…some people can’t leave those values at the door. They can’t walk past those values. If that creates different conversations maybe that is a good thing”.

With Australia now reeling from two humiliating losses in the ongoing Border-Gavaskar Trophy in India, in a spectacular feat of mental gymnastics, many commenters on social media have attributed the team’s performance not to Australia’s weakness against spin, but to Cummins’ publicised stance on climate change. Such has been the vitriol that many have criticised Cummins for coming home to Australia – during the break before the third Test – for a family emergency.

Blaming Cummins for Australia’s plight is not just a long bow to draw; it ignores Cummins’ exemplary captaincy record (including delivering a 4-0 Ashes win in his first assignment) and the fact that Cummins is, statistically, one of Australia’s greatest-ever bowlers.

Source: Cricket Australia

Putting aside the fallacy of casting climate change as a political issue, those who argue that sport and politics should not mix have not been paying attention. The two have been inextricably linked for generations, whether it is Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s famous black power salute during the 1968 Olympic Games, Muhammad Ali throwing his Olympic gold into the Ohio River in reaction to being evicted from a whites-only restaurant, or, more recently, NFL player Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the U.S. national anthem and starting a movement that continues to impact sport today.

However, whether it is a loud minority, or a by-product of the severe tall poppy syndrome that afflicts modern Australia, there appears to be a prevailing view amongst some that athletes should “stick to their knitting” and avoid commenting on matters beyond the narrow confines of their chosen discipline.

It’s a flawed attitude that is antithetical to a democratic society. After all, privilege and power are inherently relative concepts, and using them to determine the validity or weight of an opinion is a step shy of plutocracy.

The reason sport and politics cannot be separated is simple: sport is a societal construct. It does not owe us anything, other than being fair, inclusive and representative of society itself. And in that context, it is absurd to expect that those who participate in sport should keep their beliefs and opinions to themselves: athletes, too, are entitled to their own experiences of the world.

Some may watch sport to escape from the seemingly inescapable hold that politics seems to have on modern life, especially in an increasingly polarised society. That is their prerogative, and there is nothing preventing them from doing so. Indeed, the only Australians who “took a knee” during play in Delhi were playing a sweep shot and moments away from losing their off stump.

It is worth noting that, ironically, those who criticise Cummins for speaking out against a key corporate sponsor are likely those who rue the professionalisation of sport, a phenomenon which has mandated at least some degree of political correctness and “wokeness” – otherwise read as, whatever keeps the sponsors happy.

In such an environment, Cummins is to be applauded, not vilified, for showing his humanity – whether you, Cricket Australia, or its sponsors, agree with his beliefs or not.

Read More: India retains Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2023 as “Jadugar” Jadeja spins his magic

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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