Joe Root, England cricket caption, has been universally praised for his calm approach to what is presumed to be a gay slur from Shannon Gabriel, the West Indies fast bowler. Root responded in no uncertain terms to Gabriel’s comment and his response was caught by the stump microphone, not however, the initial insult. Root’s measured comments after the game attempted to put the whole incident into perspective when he said “It’s Test cricket and [Shannon] is an emotional guy trying to do everything he can to win a Test match. Sometimes people say things on the field that they might regret, but they should stay on the field. He’s a good guy who plays hard cricket and is proud to be in the position he is. The battle was a good contest. He’s had a wonderful series and he should be proud.”
Root has not divulged Gabriel’s comment and has pointed out that the whole incident will now be dealt with by the International Cricket Council. Various prominent cricketers have commented saying that race and sexuality are “no go” areas.
However, the culture of “sledging” is entrenched within cricket, with the Australians as masters in this field; it is increasingly likely that comments will get more challenging. How far is too far is a tricky question. International sport has to deal with different cultures and would do well to have a Code of Conduct, similar to the football Code of Conduct Gay Lawyers parent company drew up for Gareth Thomas, the former Welsh rugby international, to assist his campaign to ban homophobia in football. Fazeer Mohammed, the cricket commentator who is also from Trindad like Gabriel, pointed out that in the Caribbean there may be some who might be wondering what all the fuss is about as there is an entirely different attitude to homophobia. Fazeer further commented: “of course in England and many other parts of the world there’s a very different attitude; there’s a zero level of tolerance to this sort of situation, if it is that he said something that could be defined as homophobic. It’s all part of the learning process. If you’re playing international sport, with all these microphones, all these cameras around, you’re going to get caught sooner or later”.
It is highly likely that Shannon Gabriel was, as Joe Root said, just trying to get the edge by unsettling the opposition, and coming from a culture that does not regard such comments as truly offensive he has misjudged his comment. If this is indeed the case, he will pay a heavy price, and is all the more reason for a Code of Conduct which brings clarity to the behaviour that is and is not acceptable, not only from the players but the management and the fans.
The small numbers of gay players that are in some sports and the patchy acceptability of gay participants in competitive sport may very well change if LGBT players could be sure that they would not be subject to abuse. At present, in British football, there is a head count of one premiership footballer, Justin Fashanu, who came out which ended badly; and one footballer in the lower divisions, Liam Davis, who has also come out. The entrenched homophobia in football, with Greg Clarke, Chairman of the Football Association, commenting that a gay footballer would be taking a risk by coming out does not suggest it would be a good outcome for any gay player to reveal himself. Who can forget Robbie Fowler’s relentless homophobic campaign against Graham Le Saux, a married heterosexual player, which passed without sanction from the football authorities?
Track and field, tennis and swimming do not appear to have a problem; there are even a handful of boxers who are out. The sooner a global Code of Practise is adopted the better.