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A learning experience for all

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Following the four-game ban on West Indies fast bowler Mr Shannon Gabriel for a perceived homophobic comment there are a few current and former cricketers scratching their heads and thinking 'that could have been me'.

The drama followed a comment by England captain Mr Joe Root which was heard via microphone embedded in cricket stumps.

Curiously, Mr Gabriel's part in the conversation was not audible on the stump microphone.

In a statement apologising and explaining the incident which occurred while Mr Root was battling towards a century during the recent third West Indies/England Test in St Lucia, Mr Gabriel says that in a moment of intense competition he said to Mr Root: “Why are you smiling at me? Do you like boys?”

Mr Root's response, heard via the stump microphone, was “Don't use it as an insult. There's nothing wrong with being gay.”

Mr Gabriel says he responded: “I have no issues with that, but you should stop smiling at me.”

Mr Root's comment triggered intense scrutiny among journalists travelling with the England team. An investigation which followed led to the ban on Mr Gabriel.

There are those insisting that the exchange was just light, soon-to-be-forgotten banter which occurs between young men during competition. The difference here is that increasingly invasive technology laid it bare for everyone in a global environment which frowns on insults related to such delicate issues as gender, sexual orientation, race, and religion.

That Mr Root is not gay and thought so little of the incident that he did not report it to the authorities, and that the umpires apparently did not respond in any formal manner until the issue exploded in the media, turned out to be of no consequence.

So divided has been opinion that, while England coach Mr Trevor Bayliss thought the matter was overblown and that stump microphones should be turned down to prevent such conversations being overheard, England cricketer Mr Moeen Ali had an opposite view.

Mr Ali, a Muslim of Pakistani ancestry, who wears a beard and has alleged he was called “Osama” by an Australian opponent (a reference to the late Islamist terrorist Mr Osama Bin Laden) wants the microphones turned up so that all so-called “verbals” will be heard.

Intriguingly, friends and opponents alike, including Messrs Root and Ali, are of the opinion that Mr Gabriel is “a good guy” and unfortunate to have been caught up in the controversy.

The latest incident involving stump microphones and verbal insults — referred to in cricket as sledging — follows the banning of Pakistan captain Mr Sarfraz Ahmed, also for four games, after he was picked up by the stump microphone allegedly insulting a black South African opponent along racial lines. The Pakistan captain is said to have delivered the insult in his native language, Urdu.

The message is clear. In today's world with technology giving an eye and a listening ear at every turn, sportsmen and women will have to dispense with many of the old habits.

Mr Gabriel probably summed it up best: “I embrace this as a learning experience and as an opportunity for myself and all athletes to recognise the need for sensitivity and respect in their interactions with all.”