STEVE GEORGAKIS. Gilchrist and Australia’s national sport, Cricket?

Until recently cricket is a sport that has rarely engaged other minority cultures, such as Indigenous Australians or newly arrived migrants. In fact, unlike other sports such as Australian Rules football, cricket has been resistant to broaden its base. … The more multicultural Australia became, the more insular cricket became. … The integrity stops with the baggy green and the sport sells its soul to the junk food and alcohol industry.  

Last week, the Sydney Morning Herald, claimed, “the last man to lead Australia to success in India, Adam Gilchrist, has told the players they need to embrace the Indian people and their culture if they are to have success in the upcoming series” (http://www.smh.com.au/sport/cricket/india-v-australia-test-series-adam-gilchrist-tells-australia-to-embrace-india-20170128-gu0q99.html). The article portrayed Adam Gilchrist as a gentleman having depth of character and conviction, a walker, and the personification of what a cricketer should be. On the flip side, the gesture by Gilchrist, perhaps reinforced to many the perception that cricket, is still considered a sport which represents a mono-cultural idealised perception of Australia; a sport played and watched by predominantly Anglo-Celtic Australians. Why wouldn’t Australians embrace Indian culture?

Many of our cricketers make substantial income from the Indian Premier League. Would former captains of other Australian sporting codes make similar references? The perception of the comments were difficult to comprehend or were they?

Until recently cricket is a sport that has rarely engaged other minority cultures, such as Indigenous Australians or newly arrived migrants. In fact, unlike other sports such as Australian Rules football, cricket has been resistant to broaden its base. Only in the last couple of years have diversity programs featured (http://www.cricketaustralia.com.au/about/diversity-and-inclusion). In particular there is “A Sport for All” diversity education program aimed at clubs to encourage inclusion. And while these diversity initiatives do exist there is not much detail provided on how to promote cricket in migrant communities. There are a few exceptions and advice such as the post-match beer and barbecue is a ritual that Muslim players may not find enticing, gives you some insight in the resources provided.

Historians are in agreement that from the 1880s, cricket had cemented its position as Australia’s national sport. There are many reasons for this: cricket was played across the nation and inter-colonial competition thrived; it was the first international sporting success against the mother country; it was popular at the grassroots; and was not a class based sport. (Harte, C., & Porter, T. (1997). A History of Australian Cricket. Louis Braille Books). A week ago, on Australia Day, I witnessed a large game of cricket on the banks of the Mogo Creek at Mossy Point. Few can deny cricket is synonymous with Australian national identity.

The Australia of 2016, however, is not the Australia of the twentieth century and the Australian sporting landscape has also been radically changed. For example, soccer a once marginalised sport, played by ‘wogs, sheila and poofters’ (https://penguin.com.au/books/sheilas-wogs-and-poofters-9781740512220)  is now called football with a thriving grassroots and elite level national competition the A-League. For many the Socceroos are considered to be Australia’s national team, especially after consecutive appearances at the World Cup and winning the 2015 Asian Cup.  Other sports are challenging cricket’s hegemony. Cricket Australia has understood this threat.

Cricket has failed to embrace this cultural diversity and there are many examples which support this proposition. While Indian Australians (first generation and offspring) make up a sizeable portion of the Australian population (http://www.racismnoway.com.au/teaching-resources/factsheets/75.html) there is no real presence at both the grassroots and elite level participation. With the sport a religion in India, they have not been able to carve out a niche in Australia. The main reason given by cricket officials is that Indians focus more on education rather than sport in their youth or the game is too long for them.

In fact Australian cricketers at the elite level are largely from Anglo-Celtic backgrounds. The diversity found in the A-League, W-League, AFL and AFLW competitions are not evident in the BBL. Sports, in particular Australian Rules football and Rugby League, celebrate diversity. There are Indigenous and multicultural rounds, there are attempts to connect with newly arrived communities, and there are robust grassroots level programs such as Auskick. Not so for cricket.

This is quite different to the cricket scene pre-Federation where diversity was promoted. Cricket found favour in both the public and corporate schools. In some Missions cricket was used as one of the mechanisms to civilise male Indigenous youth. By playing cricket, it was hoped that they would adopt British culture. They were encouraged to play and in places such as Poonindie in South Australia played competitive cricket.  There were Indigenous cricketers around and it was a sport which in many places was adopted by the Indigenous people.

By Federation, they were rubbed out of the game. Cricket became a symbol which reinforced the White Australia Policy. A sport which celebrated close links with the mother country. And during the 20th century is used to produce Australian nationalism. Cricket was played at Gallipoli or Australians played cricket in Nazi prisoner of war camps. The more multicultural Australia became, the more insular cricket became. In countries such as South Africa diversity quotas which were seen as tokenistic have unearthed talented “players of colour”. Quota systems have never been discussed in Australia or any other policies to encourage diversity. While the first Australian team to tour Britain was comprised of Indigenous athletes, in the twentieth century only one Indigenous players represented Australia: Jason Gillespie.

Cricket is keen to propagate its virtues as ‘proudly Australian’. When the tender for the making of ‘the baggy green’ occurred, Cricket Australia were keen to proclaim that it would only be given to an Australian owned company and manufactured from 100 per cent Australian wool. Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland claimed that “Receiving a baggy green is the highest honour in our sport, and we need to ensure that the quality that goes with this prestigious item is adhered to for years to come.” The integrity stops with the baggy green and the sport sells its soul to the junk food and alcohol industry.

Diversity is not only linked to ethnicity or religion, barriers related to sexual orientation have not been broken down as there have been no openly gay cricketers. Nothing much is said of disability either.

What Cricket Australia need to understand is that having the best Test or T20 team in the world, doesn’t necessarily equate to greater rates of participation or broadening the fan base. There is a lot more to making your sport “Australia’s national sport”.

Steve Georgakis | Senior Lecturer of Pedagogy and Sports Studies 
Sydney School of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney.

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One Response to STEVE GEORGAKIS. Gilchrist and Australia’s national sport, Cricket?

  1. Peter Hill says:

    I wonder if the aggressive culture of sledging that the national team was often accused of , was possibly duplicated in lower grades of the sport. That would surely be something that has kept difference out of the mostly anglo-Australian sport.

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