Dark spots of racism

Updated: Jun 21, 2020, 07:27 IST | Ian Chappell | Mumbai

On the 1975-76 International Wanderers tour managed by Richie Benaud and captained by Greg Chappell, a member of the crowd urged our West Indian batsman John Shepherd to paint himself white so that he could look like the rest of us

West Indies and Kent batsman John Shepherd on the 1969 tour of England. Pic/ Getty Images
West Indies and Kent batsman John Shepherd on the 1969 tour of England. Pic/ Getty Images

As racism is playing a prominent role in the current turbulent times, it's worth reflecting on my experience of prejudice in and around cricket.

As a youngster growing up in a family where there was no notable prejudice and despite being in the era of the White Australia Policy, I wasn't really aware of racism.
I then had the good fortune to commence my Sheffield Shield career in the same team as West Indies champion all-rounder, Garry Sobers. That was a wonderful education in both cricket and life. Garry had no colour prejudice and his inspiration helped me form an opinion; there are both good and not-so-good people and it has nothing to do with colour.

My first overseas tour was South Africa in 1966-67 and that was an eye-opener. The apartheid regime was in power and we got a taste of its abhorrent nature after winning the second Test in Cape Town.

"Why don't you pick Garry Sobers then you'll have a team full of blacks," was the offensive comment directed at Australian batsman Grahame Thomas by an ignorant patron in the team hotel.

Thomas has an Afro-American lineage dating back to the days of slavery. Sensibly, he walked away from any confrontation.

Confronting Viv Richards

As captain in 1972-73, prior to commencing a home series against Pakistan and then touring the Caribbean, I spoke to the Australian players. I warned them if there were any comments prefixed by the word black, there would be trouble.

As a way of explanation, I said, "You don't call someone a lucky white b*s***d, so why include the word black in any outburst?"

I never heard any such comments from those Australian players.

In 1975-76, my brother Greg captained Australia against the West Indies. In a book published after the series, Viv Richards suggested there'd been some racially prejudiced comments. I asked Greg—who had a similar outlook to me—if he'd heard any such outbursts and he said, "No."

I later confronted Viv on the subject and he said he was referring to one player and he assured me that it had all been sorted out.

In 1972, I played in a double wicket contest in Zimbabwe. On a rest day a few players were drinking in the back bar at the Victoria Falls hotel. We'd been there a while when the proprietor suddenly told Basil D'Oliveira—a South African born 'Cape coloured' who played for England—he had to leave the bar. I asked why? "Because he's been swearing in front of my wife," came the unconvincing reply. "Turn it up mate," I responded, "there's a few of us been swearing, why pick on Basil? The man insisted that Basil was the only one swearing so we all put our unfinished beers on the bar and walked out.

During the 1975-76 tour of South Africa by a mixed race International Wanderers side managed by Richie Benaud and captained by Greg, I experienced a different form of racism.

We travelled to a ground outside Port Elizabeth to watch players of colour who weren't allowed to compete in the Currie Cup competition because of South Africa's apartheid laws.

As we were leaving, a member of the crowd shouted out, "Why don't you paint yourself white Shepherd and then you can be like the rest of them."

John Shepherd played for the West Indies and the Kent county side and he's one of the most gentle people on this earth. However, he stopped abruptly and turned to face the crowd with a withering glare.

I happened to be next to Shep and grabbed his arm and said, "You don't have to put up with this—let's leave."

Shep's arm was as firm as a steel rod but without re-directing his glare he simply said; "You keep going I'll be there in a minute." Then as a reassurance he added, "There won't be any trouble."

Harmful effects of racism

I had another experience of the harmful effects of racism in Jamaica in 1991. At a television forum, the moderator introduced the subject of the ICC. During my answer, I said the power of veto that Australia and England held over ICC decisions was a disgrace and should've been abolished long ago.

Not anticipating that anybody in the audience would even be aware there was a power of veto, I was staggered when the crowd burst into applause.

This made of mockery of the standard reply from Australian cricket administrators, "The power of veto has never been used so why would it upset anyone." This is the sad reality of racism; what is implied often cuts deepest.

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