Corey Taylor | 2:18pm gmt 18 Mar 2008
"A centipede was happy, quite,
Until an ant, in fun,
Said "Pray, which leg comes after which?"
Which raised his doubts to such a pitch,
He fell befuddled in the ditch,
Not knowing how to run."
Often in cricket, as in life, people struggle to get to the point. Cricket encounters such situations on a regular basis where a problem is identified or a debate commenced, pundits and punters alike provide further analysis and the original problem is lost amongst the backwash of the details. Organisational psychology has provided the literature with a term for this phenomenon; `paralysis by analysis`. No formal definition exists because it is, by nature, an informal concept but the crux of the issue is one of failure to move beyond the analysis stage of a an idea/project to that of a value producing stage because there are more variables to take into account, more analysis of the effect of those variables required, etc. where further analysis does little to change the end result or add to the existing knowledge base. Many examples of this type of thinking occur in cricket, as with many facets of life, and sometimes it`s even desirable. The focus here will be on a few topical issues with the offer of solutions or suggested directions.
The issue of sledging and abuse is a recent, salient example where semantic arguments have resulted in essentially an impasse. The end result has been that the status quo remained long after the protagonists had their days in court. The current maelstrom has its roots in Australia`s tour for a limited-overs series to India several months ago. Andrew Symonds charged that spectators at a match had racially abused him, which was subsequently parroted by unruly crowd members in games for the rest of the series. The ill feeling over the incident was exacerbated by the response of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) that was to essentially state that racism does not exist in India with consequent lack of action against the issue. The Australian team took umbrage to these statements but, as the responsibility for action against crowd members rested with the BCCI, decided not to pursue the matter with a formal complaint to the ICC.
Moving forward several months and the already tense Test series between the same two opponents exploded when Andrew Symonds accused Harhajan Singh of racial abuse, charging that the epithet used by him was also used by Singh during the one-day series in India. This time, the Australians via Symonds made a formal complaint and Singh was initially found guilty of racial abuse by match referee Mike Proctor. Amid protests by the BCCI and threats of a mid-tour pull-out, the matter was referred to a former New Zealand high-court judge who ruled that the Australian complaint lacked evidentiary grounds to find Singh guilty of racial abuse and the verdict was rightly reduced to that of a minor foul language charge, the Indian defence substantially being that of a similar-sounding but non racially-charged epithet being used against Symonds.
Something, however, went missing in this month-long debate on racism, whether it exists in India in the same form it does in Australia, whether Singh even said the epithet in question and other such discussions. Two issues that immediately come to mind are that of what should constitute offensive behaviour and what the offended party`s rights are and should be. Whether or not Symonds was racially abused in India or Australia is open to question but what is not in question is that he was hurt by the events that transpired in India and Australia and that subsequent to making that hurt known, certain crowd members made it their business to repeat the hurtful actions. Whether racial abuse or not was the intention of these crowd members, to hurt Symonds was certainly the eventual goal and to that end they succeeded. This, in my humble opinion, has a palpable ugliness to it that speaks to the heart of the issue of offensive behaviour in that, whether racial or not their goal was certainly to get to Symonds. This logic can be applied to many incidents involving many other teams too.
The issue of recourse by the aggrieved party is another which has been unnecessarily complicated by semantics. The degree of hurt caused by a comment at someone is rarely determined by the perpetrator outside of cricket but within playing circles, the underlying philosophy behind some solutions undermines the aggrieved party`s ability to determine whether an offence has occurred and if so, the degree of offence caused. Well-meaning but ultimately flawed suggestions such as a global list of offensive terms fail to add to or change the end result because many terms on the list can be argued to be invalidated as offensive by context. Conversely, otherwise innocuous terms can be afforded offence by context. Leaving it to the umpires to determine offence is flawed too because two components exist to offensive terms; the term itself and whether the target understands the terms. If the umpires are to determine such things alone, it behoves them to study a few post-graduate sociology degrees in multiple countries because they won`t understand all possible angles otherwise. Similarly, a list ignores that players will always attempt to skirt the bounds of good taste and offence using euphemisms, different languages, etc. so the list will never be exhaustive and will again get bogged-down in detail of context, etc. None of this adds to or detracts from the primary concern, either; player x is accused of saying something which was hurtful to player y. The semantics debates undermine the ability to find a solution and focus on fine-grained detail at the expense of the original problem.
A solution I humbly offer is detailed herein and is modelled on corporate policy in many organisations insofar as it provides a complex issue with a practical framework to avoid further paralysis. Whether an offence has occurred should be up to the players themselves to make it known to authorities but with the implicit understanding that the charge is serious and that a serious burden of proof is therefore upon them. This negates the need for a never-can-be exhaustive list of terms and puts both the power to complain and the responsibility for the consequences of the complaint squarely on the shoulders of the players concerned with their respective boards for support. As per the Singh case heard in Adelaide, both sides of the complaint should argue their case with evidence as collected by their boards with a pre-hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence to sustain a charge as determined by lawyers and judge. This sort of process expedites a solution one way or the other and allows both sides to argue issues such as context, degree of offence caused, evidence for and against the charge as per any other court. In any other legal context, the burden of proof is on the accuser and cricket should be no different.