‘Alcohol culture pushes away Muslim cricketers and fans’

‘Alcohol culture pushes away Muslim cricketers and fans’

Fans throw a beer snake up in the air during day three of the Fourth Test Match in the Ashes series between Australia and England at Sydney Cricket Ground on January 7, 2022. (Photo: Getty Images)

Vivek Mishra

In cricket, the prevalent alcohol-centric culture is not only alienating Muslim fans but also making Muslim cricketers feel excluded, says Azeem Rafiq, a key figure in the sport.

Rafiq, the whistleblower in the Yorkshire racism scandal, said club cricket “revolved around alcohol,” which “excludes Muslims specifically, but everyone that doesn’t drink,” The Times reported.

He told the Hay Festival that attempts to set up “Asian” cricket clubs outside the mainstream in cities like Bradford were because many felt “excluded from the system.”

“Every part of it; the minute you turn up to a club to the minute you leave is around alcohol,” he said. “The game needs to evolve its economy so it doesn’t at recreational level revolve around alcohol.”

Alcohol has historically been a prominent feature of international cricket, with England and Australia’s teams engaging in drunken post-match celebrations. However, when Australia won the Ashes in January 2022, captain Pat Cummins was praised for halting his team’s champagne celebration so that Muslim batsman Usman Khawaja could join in. Khawaja said it showed his teammates “have my back,” adding, “Inclusivity in the game and our values as a sport are so important.”

A report by the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket (CEC) found that the sport was riddled with racism, sexism, and class-based discrimination, the newspaper reported. Rafiq said that British Asians represented 30 per cent of players at the recreational level, which dropped to about 4 per cent at the professional level. “The reason Asian people have gone and set up on their own is because they felt excluded from the system,” he said, encouraging unity because separate systems were “exactly the type of thing the racists want.”

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Stephen Fry, president of the MCC at the time of the CEC report, said it had been a “slap in the face.” He mentioned that the organisation felt they were on the right path with initiatives for diversity, equity, and inclusion but acknowledged that the game would not survive if it did not change, The Times reported. He criticised the MCC’s public image, saying it was not a “fair face to see of the MCC.”

The CEC report has led to a heated period in English county cricket, with several prominent cricketers denying the game has a racism problem.

Ian Botham, former allrounder and current chairman of Durham, described the report as “nonsense,” saying he had never played in a dressing room like those characterised by the report, the newspaper reported.