Moeen Ali was asked by the International Cricket Council (ICC) to not sport the wristbands during India and England third Test at Southampton © Getty Images
In the past, politics mired with sport has always sparked off debates and divided opinion amongst the viewing public. R Vishal looks at Moeen Ali’s stance to wear an wristband supporting the war-torn land of Palestine and whether he was right in doing so.
Breaking into the English team with a well-combed beard, there were instant comparisons between Moeen Ali and South African batting mainstay Hashim Amla. Cricket, after all has embraced their bearded men more than any other sport. Politics and cricket or for that matter any sport, have not gelled well. The man in question, Moeen Ali wore an wristband in the ongoing third Test against India at Southampoton which had the messages ‘Save Gaza’ and ‘Free Palestine’ embedded on them.
For England, being involved in a row with political connotations has been a fairly recurring theme. The ICC World Cup 2003 reached a tipping point with Nasser Hussain’s men bowing out of the group stage rather tearfully. The English were involved in a tug of war of whether to play their final group game against co-hosts Zimbabwe. Eventually, England ended up forfeiting their game after fearing a backlash from the dictatorial Robert Mugabe government subsequently and crashed out of the World Cup.
World over, people have outraged over the situation in Palestine, with constant bombardments displacing and killing people each and every day. Millions, by that many renowned personalities in the public eye have expressed their grief over their situation. Very few sportsmen have taken a vocal stance though. Many from the showbiz industry have taken a political stance and those having an opinion on the current situation may border on the axiomatic.
Where does that leave cricketers or for that matter sportsmen? They have as much as of a right to take a stance on a sensitive situation taking place across the world but why were the knives out on Moeen Ali’s wristbands?
Is it the general outlook of a sportsman that we have engrained in our heads since we first set our eyes on the television screen? The indefatigable, larger-than-life character fighting it out in the centre and that gives fans a vicarious sense of victory. But his domains away from the pitch are strictly demarcated.
The giants of the game have been rather coy about being vocal on a political issue and moving forward, it is best kept that way. Unlike footballers, cricketers have a reputation of having a squeaky clean, politically correct image. Moving forward, it is better if it stays that way.
Sachin Tendulkar, after leading India to a match-winning ton against England in Chennai dedicated his ton to the deceased 26/11 victims in the Mumbai terror attacks. It had zero political connotations but empathy and regret over terrorists gunning down scores of people in the batting legend’s hometown.
Footballers have often run into controversies through some bizarre celebrations down on the touchline after scoring a goal. The vests worn underneath their respective jerseys have become a scribbling board of sorts. Some have bordered on the boorish and the ugly and while some have been poignant.
The ICC’s rule book does not allow players from expressing any religious or political sentiments. Moeen was promptly barred from continuing to wear his controversial paraphernalia any further. The English all-rounder of Pakistani descent should have had a glance at the rulebook before making his views heard. The player was not wrong in doing so and credit should be given to the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) for standing by its player.
With many cricketers across the world being wordy geniuses across social media, there is no venting out matters that affect them. As history has proven in the past, politics is best kept away from the cricketing arena.
Click here to read more on Moeen Ali’s ‘Save Gaza’ and ‘Free Palestine’ wristband controversy
(R Vishal is a journalist and an alumni of the Asian College of Journalism. He can be followed on Twitter @vishhell)