Racial taunts in the name of sport never on

Last updated 00:00 01/01/2009

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Save us from the "what happens on the field should stay on the field" brigade.

Racism is racism in any forum – workplace, public bar or cricket pitch. Australia has a lot to answer for on the race relations front. But racial taunts are a universal offence.

Indian bowler Harbhajan Singh deserves to be banned for three tests if he called Andrew Symonds a "monkey".

Harbhajan continues to vehemently deny the accusations. But Symonds is sensitive – and rightly so – about taunts. He was assailed with monkey chants by Indian fans during Australia's last tour of the sub- continent.

I can't believe how many former cricketers are coming out with some short-pitched stuff about the Australians. They are deluded in the belief that skipper Ricky Ponting's complaint about the monkey business is another under-arm act. Former New Zealand international John Morrison accused the Australians of "running off to the teacher". But there was worse to come from Kenyan-born former Black Cap Dipak Patel, who said he had been "called a lot worse than a monkey".

Does that make it right?

Many of the men now siding with Singh played in less enlightened eras. What was tolerated then is not acceptable now – and rightly so.

I wonder how New Zealanders would react if a similar jibe had been aimed at a Black Cap of Maori or Pacific Island descent?

Singh's apologists seem to be most incensed that world sledging champion Australia is the party brandishing the digit.

They have a point there. There has been an ugly under-current of sledging by Australian cricketers for years. Some of it has been amusing, like when a New Zealand batsman with a prominent nose refused to walk after knicking a ball behind in a test across the Tasman.

The young Black Cap was expecting an instant verbal barrage. Instead, he was stunned by the eerie hush.

Then, from under a helmet in the suicide jockey slot of short fine leg, a busy moustache bristled and a stocky Tasmanian said something like: "Hey, Pinnochio ... tell any more lies like that and your nose will grow so long we'll need that building crane over there to dig you out of the pitch".

But a lot of the Australian banter is pretty puerile stuff. A team with such an outstanding international record would be far more intimidating if it simply remained silent. However, even the superstars of sledging should not be subjected to offensive taunts. Nor is Symonds fair game, even though he refused to walk when he was blatantly out early in a career-best innings of 162 in the ill-starred Sydney test.

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The Indian Cricket Board cannot defend racism of any kind. But it should pursue the issue of umpiring standards. The standard of officiating by the admittedly neutral umpires left much to be desired in the absorbing Australia-India second test.

At the risk of introducing some levity to a serious issue, the International Cricket Council upholding the claims against Singh could perhaps have come up with a more creative punishment.

Last year, a Christchurch father and son were banned from Canterbury United football matches for two years after Otago United's coach, Terry Phelan, was called a monkey. Phelan, a former Republic of Ireland World Cup player and a FA Cup winner with Wimbledon, is of Irish and African heritage.

Canterbury United is now bottom of the national league with six goals in two games. Perhaps Singh could have been sentenced to two seasons on the bank at English Park.

But, seriously, sport should have a zero-tolerance policy.

- The Press

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