A tale of hypocrisy and double standards

2014-03-22 00:00

LEO McKinstry has been described as a nasty, intolerant man who gets paid to churn out deeply unpleasant, utterly charmless and endlessly repetitive rants in London’s Daily Express. This may or may not be true but in a recent piece in the Spectator he revealed a nasty case of hypocrisy in sport that is worthy of being brought to light in these pages.

The preamble to the Winter Olympics which have just run their course in Sochi contained a great deal of furious rhetoric at the unpleasant homophobia of President Vladimir Putin’s Russian regime. Recent events in that part of the world have had a marked effect on Putin’s popularity depending on one’s view of the legitimacy of the Crimean referendum and the imminent gathering into the Russian fold of a large part of Ukraine. In the last few days, however, nothing in the international press has matched the indignation of the world media at the thought of the Winter Olympics being held in a country where the regime is alleged to be so openly against the gay community.

There were demands for boycotts of the games and forests of paper were consumed by coverage of the evils of Russia’s anti- gay prejudices. Much of this was provoked by a law passed last June by the Russian parliament that outlawed the “propaganda of non-traditional relations”, which was designed to protect children from gay rights evangelism.

According to McKinstry, “to parts of the gay rights lobby, this measure was a symbol of brutal repression, a step so intolerant that it made the Winter Olympics at Sochi an affront to humanity. Stephen Fry, the gay actor, writer and television personality, was so incensed that he penned a letter to David Cameron urging that the Winter Olympics should be held anywhere but Russia since Putin’s hostility to gays was similar to the Nazis’ persecution of the Jews”.

Enter the T20 World cup in Bangladesh, which has not attracted a single world of protest from gay rights campaigners despite the host country’s appalling record of institutionalised discrimination against homosexuals. Same-sex activity remains a criminal offence in Bangladesh. In fact, such bans are in place also in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Bangladesh’s government recently rejected a United Nations call for the decriminalisation of homosexuality on the grounds that it “would conflict with the socio-cultural values of the country”.

Of course, Russia was only the host country of the Winter Olym­pics. It is not the base country of the International Olym­pic Committee and nobody has accused any of its leading figures of aggressive homophobia. Yet this charge, according to McKinstry, has been made against our old friend Mr N. Srinivasan, who is now not only the chief of the BCCI but also the president of the International Cricket Council. This allegation has come by way of none other than his own son, Ashwin, who is openly gay and lives with his partner, Avi.

According to Ashwin, his father has made his life a misery because he is violently against homosexuality and once used his influence to have both Ashwin and Avi beaten up with iron rods by the police in a Mumbai restaurant.

So not only is the host country of the T20 World Cup an anti-gay destination but its prejudices are shared by several member countries of the ICC as well as its president. If ever a sports event was destined to be the target of the gay rights lobby it should have been this T20 World Cup, but thus far there has only been a deafening silence. McKinstry’s theory is that this is “because of the guilt tripping nostrums about western colonialism and racial violence, campaigners are terrified of confronting even rampant prejudice among non-white ethnic groups”.

He goes on to write that this double standard reflects how the metropolitan west now views Russia and the subcontinent. The former is a “right wing bastard capitalist state run by gangsters and oligarchs whereas the latter is a land of diversity, progress and inspiration, full of heroic masses whose only faults are the legacy of the British empire”.

Whether or not one agrees with McKinstry, he does provide an interesting take on the cultural values of the governments of half the members of the ICC and its president. One wonders what the other two member countries of the ICC’s new big three, England and Australia, will make of this dichotomy between their own attitude towards homosexuals and that of Mr Srinivasan and his fellow members from the subcontinent plus, of course, Zimbabwe.

The male variant of cricket has always been something of a laddish game. Its culture has been very much that of the straightforward, if not rampant, heterosexual. Openly gay cricketers have been comparatively rare. The same is not true of women’s cricket, which has long been a sport in which many lesbian women have found expression for their athletic abilities. It cannot sit comfortably with female cricketers that homophobia is alive and well within the boardroom of the ICC.

Unfortunately, the structures of the ICC are such that women’s cricket lacks any power and depends for its international existence on handouts from the male-dominated ICC. This doesn’t mean women should accept support from the ICC without demurring against attitudes that insult and would criminalise many of their cricketers. For a start, they should refuse to allow any country with anti-gay legislation on its books to host any ICC tournaments for women. Then, a small step would be the development of an ICC lobby to insist that none of its tournaments, male or female, be held in such countries.

The attitude of the subcontinent countries to homosexuals is a scandal that should not be tolerated by civilised societies. This is an issue that presents an ideal opportunity for both England and Australia to assert their moral leadership of the ICC.

What are the chances of this happening? The answer is nil. We know from recent events that the ICC is now about money and nothing else.

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