Role of Cricket and Social Media in Community Integration

Professor Awadhesh Jha

Undeniably, social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) is playing a very significant role in modern life. Whilst it has many benefits, it could easily disrupt personal and social lives if used immaturely or carelessly. In the light of ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, the government and several institutions including public and sporting bodies are taking initiatives to further strengthen race relationships, foster religious tolerance and promote equality and diversity in the wider society. 

In the above context, a few weeks ago, many cricket fans were saddened following controversy sparked by racist and sexist tweets written by 27-year-old cricketer, Ollie Robinson. These tweets were written years previously when he was a teenager. The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) took very prompt action by suspending Robinson from the team pending the investigations. Robinson’s suspension sparked a sharp division of opinions in the wider society. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other leaders criticised the action of ECB. MP from South West Devon, Sir Gary Streeter defended Robinson remarking that as teenagers we all make mistakes which we regret later in life and ECB should adopt the core value of our society, ‘of forgiveness’. 

After Robinson’s suspension, a few high profile names also surfaced who have written similar tweets in the past. It is reported that ECB has started scrutinising all media posts of its contracted players. The England players are anxious about the looming threat from further probes into controversial tweets which are very much on the cards. Such nervousness after the series defeat by New Zealand could be unhelpful for the forthcoming test series against India, followed by the Ashes series in Australia. England captain, Joe Root insisted that his team is totally committed to stamping out discrimination in cricket.

In common with other games and sports, Cricket plays an important role in social cohesion and integration. I used to play and enjoy cricket during my student life. In 1993, when I joined ICI/Zeneca Environmental Laboratory in Brixham (South Devon), I was warmly welcomed in the Laboratory Cricket team. Colleagues assumed that all Indians are good cricketers, which very soon they realised is not the case! My inclusion in the team gave me the opportunity to play matches in the lush Greens of picturesque Torbay area during the summer periods. I was the only Asian player on the ground and was warmly looked after! The social aspect was particularly enjoyable! Being new to the English lifestyle, this ‘gentlemen’s game provided the opportunity to learn many social skills!

After moving to Plymouth in 1996, few of us established the South Asian Society as a registered charity in 2003. In line with the broader objectives of the society to enhance community cohesion and integration, in 2010, we started a Cricket Tournament inviting local teams to participate. These events were highly successful and thoroughly enjoyed by the members of the society and the local communities. Due to different constraints, we could however not continue this tournament. Many society members were/are playing for different clubs and many members of the South Asian community are now fully integrated with different clubs. Increasing numbers of South Asian families are encouraging their kids to play cricket and others sports, take them to coaching sessions, where they interact with the wider community. All these activities will definitely contribute to damping down the future online abuses of various forms and will go towards achieving the goals of the society, with long-term positive impact. 

As social media is being increasingly used particularly by the younger generation, we need to be fully aware that once posted, even if these posts are deleted, it is easy to track them down. As it is quite natural for teenagers to make mistakes, such mistakes could be risky for future careers. There are plenty of unfortunate examples outside the cricket world as well. Earlier this year, Rashmi Samant, the first woman to become president of the Oxford University Student’s Union had to resign a few days after she was elected. This was a consequence of supposedly racist and insensitive tweets she had posted as a teenager.

Following the recent Euro Cup Football final, alarming levels of online abuse of England players were noted. It is being realised that racist abuse sent to England players have been active for some time despite the sites being urged by the authorities to crack down on discriminatory posts and suspend accounts. Such incidences could have long-lasting negative knock-on effects on the wider communities too, such as the defaced mural of England football player, Marcus Rashford. In this context, according to a recent survey, commissioned by London Lions, 41% of the BAME community in the UK are hesitant to attend live events over fears of racial abuse, although younger fans (18-24 years) are less worried (29%). It is therefore not surprising that the government is planning to implement tougher rules in addition to banning individuals who are involved in online abuse to enter the ground. Clearly more needs to be done.   Finally, it is important to realise that ultimately, the parents and the schools bear the responsibility to educate children and inculcate the right values. They have important roles to play in digital education and alerting the children about the risks associated with their online (as well as offline) behaviour. Backed by the government initiatives, schools and parents, therefore, need to build a positive partnership to educate teenagers in this important aspect of life. Given that digital technologies are getting increasingly integrated into various aspects of our lives, it is high time that proper use of such skills are assimilated in the school curriculum from an early stage. 

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