Casual racism within Australian cricket has been allowed to fester through a lack of adequate cultural awareness education for players, support staff and officialdom over the past two decades, leaving many to consider their past behaviour through the prism of the Black Lives Matter movement.
This is one of many uncomfortable conclusions to be drawn from Cricket Australia’s first attempt to reckon with its past and present mistakes in dealing with Indigenous players and issues of race more generally. It takes the form of a series of discussion panels under the banner of Cricket Connecting Country that will air on the governing body’s digital platforms on Wednesday night, hosted by the CA board director Mel Jones.
In a discussion featuring two noted experts on race and culture in Nyadol Nyuon, a commercial litigator with the Melbourne law firm Arnold Bloch Leibler, and Janine Mohamed, chief executive of the Lowitja Institute dedicated to Aboriginal health, the Indigenous Australian cricketer Dan Christian catalogued the extent of casual racism he had experienced, largely around ignorant critiques of his Aboriginality based on his appearance.
“I think it is an issue in Australian cricket, I don’t think it’s as ‘in your face’ as you might see around the world or even elsewhere in Australian culture,” Christian told the panel. “I think it’s definitely there, it’s more of a casual racism, just little throwaway lines here and there, made to be jokes and a lot of that for me personally has been around the colour of my skin and the fact that I don’t look Aboriginal or whatever that means. That’s the most noticeable thing for me.
“It’s just something that comes with a lack of education and an ignorance. I don’t think a lot of people say it with any kind of malice, it’s just that they don’t understand and don’t know. When all the BLM stuff came out in the last couple of months, one of the things I related to the most was Meyne Wyatt’s monologue on QandA, which I thought was absolutely brilliant. There’s one little section of that where he talks about being asked that question and his comment back to whoever asked it was ‘well what part am I, is it my foot, is it my arm, is it my leg’. I’ve had those kinds of questions a lot and it was a pretty good way to look at it.
“However I’ve received a lot of messages over the past few months from people I’ve played with and against that have said ‘sorry if I’ve ever said anything to you that you’ve been offended by, please help, I’d love to know more about your personal story, your family story, things that I can do in the community to try and help out’ and so from that perspective I think it’s been a wonderful thing to have happened to be able to have that conversation and for people to want to make change.”
Christian noted, somewhat ruefully, that he had received more education about cultural awareness and understanding of the many and varied racial backgrounds in Australian life during a brief stint in a public service job prior to his professional cricket career, than in any of the many seasons since.
“Before I started playing cricket I was working for the government in the Indigenous employment branch in the department of employment and workplace relations in the early 2000s, and one of the first things I did when I had that job, and the whole department had to go through it, was cross-cultural awareness training,” he said. “So you learned all sorts of things about our own culture and other cultures and how to integrate, and all that stuff.
“It was all really interesting, fantastic, relevant stuff. That was in the early 2000s. I’ve been playing cricket ever since, and not once have I ever been through any kind of training or heard about any kind of training like that throughout cricket. So that’s one thing we could at least do to raise some awareness and to educate people within our sport. I just don’t think that’s something we’ve ever looked at in the past, and I think, particularly now is a great chance to do something like that.”
Australia’s cricketers are still on their own journey to a better understanding of the game’s rich Aboriginal history, including the 1868 tour of England by an Indigenous team that was the first ever overseas visit by any representative sporting team from this country. In many ways the women’s team has been able to progress more fully on the path towards proper understanding and connection than their male equivalents.
This was underlined by how, after the men’s limited-overs team captain Aaron Finch stated that the team would not be “taking a knee” in recognition of the BLM movement before their first T20I in England last week, the Australian women’s team vice-captain Rachael Haynes stated that a deeper understanding of Indigenous culture and its connection to cricket had made numerous observances, both last year and in planning for the season to come, so much more meaningful.
“The great thing about being involved with it was that it wasn’t a superficial event,” Haynes said of the team donning Indigenous-inspired uniforms for the Reconcilitation match played against England last summer. “Quite often when we do things on the field, you walk out as a player and you’re just part of that one moment and then you move on and you play the game. One of the things I really enjoyed about being involved in it was it started perhaps six months before that moment.
“CA came and presented to us on the whole concept and then spoke about the jersey that was going to get produced and we did some activities leading into it as well to get an appreciation of indigenous culture and for me as a player that was much more valuable than just stepping out onto the field and going through the ceremony and not perhaps understanding different moments you were part of.
“I think that’s something sport has a responsibility to do, is just because the lights and cameras are out and flashing, that’s not just the moment you’re looking to capture. If you want to be impactful long-term, you’ve actually got to take the opportunity leading in to educate the players on what they’re doing and why they’re doing it and what the opportunity is as well. Rather than just getting them to step out onto the field and be part of a ceremony which is really symbolic and great to be part of, but that shouldn’t be where it stops and starts.”
Nevertheless, Haynes acknowledged the fact that instances of racist language and behaviour were still far more frequent in Australian cricket than anyone should condone, citing a recent example she had witnessed personally.
“When I did hear it I was really taken aback in the moment and the situation, because it came from a place where it didn’t come from a teammate or the team environment, it came from a place surrounding that, and in a moment where I didn’t envisage that would happen,” Haynes said. “I did say something to call it out, but it really hit home to me that much of the points that are being raised around casual racism, even how its ingrained in some younger children, not even really knowing that’s what they’re being taught.
“There’s lots of things we need to do to overcome that, how we talk in the media, how we call out behaviour. I think there’s a huge role for sport to play in that. We’ve started to see that as well even with other codes, people are really starting to call out poor behaviour, we’ve seen that a lot on social media. So sport has a huge role to play in trying to make people accountable for some of the things they’re saying.”
Nyuon and Mohamed concluded their own many insights by noting that any “allies” to the cause of Black and Aboriginal justice needed to be well stocked with resilience and willingness to struggle. This first episode of Cricket Connecting Country, to be followed by two others, helps CA to enter into the many difficult conversations that will entail.