Racism row haunts India

Published: Friday, October 19, 2007, 17:34 [IST]
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A racism row refuses to go away in India where fans repeatedly taunted Australia's only black player, tarnishing the country's sporting image.

Andrew Symonds was subjected to monkey chants from the crowd during the fifth game of seven in the India-Australia one-day series and booed and mocked in the final game in Mumbai on Wednesday.

A front-page picture in Friday's Hindustan Times caught a section of the Mumbai crowd where at least two men appeared to be making monkey gestures.

"The ugly Indian?" asked the accompanying headline.

The daily's sports page appealed to Indian fair play: "C'mon Mumbai, this isn't us," pleaded a major story.

The episode has been a wake-up call for Indian authorities, who earlier condemned the behaviour after initially trying to downplay the issue.

Some officials had suggested the chants were to invoke the powerful and popular Hindu monkey god Hanuman.

And Indian cricket chief Sharad Pawar was quoted in the Australian press saying it was a "misunderstanding" and a "language issue."

But as the debate rumbled on, he Wednesday issued a joint statement with the Australian board condemning racism of any kind in the game.

India lost the series 4-2 and its reputation as a sporting also took a battering, just two months before a Test series in Australia.

Fears of retaliatory behaviour in Australia are mounting.

"If a random trawl of the blogosphere is any indication, Indian players travelling to Australia this winter should expect to cop more than a bit of heat in retaliation," The Hindustan Times said.

"There is talk of 'paying the effing Indians back in the same coin' and 'getting one back for Symmo (Symonds)'," it noted.

Sri Lankan players have reportedly expressed worries they could be among the first to feel the backlash when they arrive Down Under this month for a two-Test series.

The series will also see the return of ace off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, who has often expressed his unhappiness at Australian fans' comments over his controversial bowling action.

The Sri Lankan is just nine short of breaking retired Australian leg-spinner Shane Warne's Test world record of 708 wickets.

The Australians, and especially Symonds, have tried to keep the racism row low key in India.

"I am not disappointed it happened, but I heard people refused it happened ... and that's disappointing," Symonds admitted after the sixth one-dayer at Nagpur, where he smashed an unbeaten century.

Australia skipper Ricky Ponting said he hoped the matter was closed and there would be no repetition during a Twenty20 match in Mumbai on Saturday.

"I am sure there will be a lot of embarrassed people around this country to know that this stuff has happened again at one of their venues. It's done now, hopefully in the Twenty20 match it does not happen," he said.

International Cricket Council (ICC) chief executive Malcolm Speed urged members to be true to the zero-tolerance approach to racism.

"If people are seen or heard behaving in a racist way then our message to the ground authorities and host boards is clear: find the culprits, throw them out and keep them out because racism has no place in our sport," he said.

"It's pleasing to hear that some offenders in Mumbai were ejected and that is the type of zero tolerance we want in relation to this despicable behaviour.

"Traditionally, racism has not been a significant issue for cricket. It's a sport that we are proud to say is well-known for respect, tolerance, diversity and fair play and we are keen to ensure it stays that way."

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