Queensland captain Usman Khawaja has joined fellow veteran Dan Christian in condemning what both men believe are ongoing racism issues in Australian cricket.
Pakistan-born Khawaja, who moved to Australia with his family at the age of five, has become the country’s leading cricketer of Asian descent, appearing in 93 internationals since his Test debut in January 2011.
The 33-year-old is now ready to take on a role consistent with his gaming responsibilities by joining a Cricket Australia (CA) working group tasked with drafting an action plan aimed at greater cultural diversity and inclusion broader within both the governing body itself and Australian cricket.
It’s an issue dear to the heart of the batsman of the highest order, who has previously spoken of the racial slander he received as a young cricketer working his way through the system, and about which Christian spoke at length on the first episode. from Cricket Connecting Country. last week.
Speak with cricket.com.auKhawaja also revealed that his perception of him as a “lazy” cricketer, which has plagued him throughout his career, is at least partly due to his ethnicity, with ingrained cricket stereotypes reinforcing that view.
“ I always had that ‘lazy’ undertone growing up and I think part of it was my relaxed nature, but part of it was also because I was Pakistani, and people on the subcontinent were seen as lazy, not preoccupied with the hard yards and stuff, ”he said.
“Running has never been natural to me, so when we used to do a lot of fitness tests, I wasn’t as good as the rest. If you compare that to where I came from, it played against me.”
“I like to think we’ll start from that, but there’s definitely still that undertone … I still hear (similar stereotypes), if someone’s a little bit different.”
Earlier this year, before his resignation in June, Khawaja reached out to Kevin Roberts, the former CEO of CA, with the intention of coming to the fore with the board in addressing the issue of the limited multiculturalism within Australian cricket.
“The older I have gotten, the more I realized that when it comes to diversity – especially in cricket in general – I think we’ve done well, but we’re still not quite there,” he said.
“If you look at the landscape in terms of multicultural cricketers, then we have a few subcontinental cricketers – myself, Gurinder (Sandhu), Arjun Nair, Jason Sangha and Tanveer Sangha come through the ranks … (but) we have one more long way to go.
“I called Kevin Roberts before he quit to talk about this. I said, ‘Look, I know there are a lot of things going on with the coronavirus, there are costs being cut, but cultural diversity in cricket, it’s something I am really passionate about so if you need any help from me please get in touch i want to make sure you don’t cut too much in this regard as i think this is a big part of where cricket australia is going ‘.
“During this time in which we live, there are a lot of civil rights issues going on, especially in America with the Black Lives Matter movement.
“We can’t just put our heads in the sand and say, ‘Everyone is perfect, everything is fine, and there is no way to improve.’
“We can improve in so many ways and this is just one of them.”
Khawaja hopes that Australian cricket can reach a point where the national teams are “more reflective of our country”, and in turn produce more role models that children of different ethnic backgrounds can more easily relate to.
The premise, he says, is the foundation of cricket, where he suggests that two critical factors – an internal and an external – together have limited the progress of young cricketers from Australia’s subcontinental community; a traditional parental focus on education over sports and ingrained racism in the game.
“If you come from a subcontinental family – all of Asia really – then studying is very important,” said Khawaja. “My mom wanted me to stop playing cricket and study, and that happens a lot with boys my age who come through the ranks.
“The (general message is): ‘You have to study, you have to get a good education’.
“People need to realize that, firstly, you can do both as I did (Khawaja has a degree in aviation), and secondly, not everyone has the God-given gift to pursue a career as a professional athlete, so if you have that opportunity, you should take it because if you do it right it is a lucrative lifestyle that can help you and your family.
“There is a lot more money in cricket now than in the past and that is an important factor – whether people want to admit it or not – when mothers look at their children’s careers.
“But you can do both things at the same time. Cricket has great welfare programs that allow players to study and train at the same time. There is a really good level of support through Cricket Australia and the state associations. Most of the younger guys. Study in Queensland, and even some of the older guys.
“Overall, with the subcontinent community, I know how important that is to moms and dads, so we have to stress that, especially with technology nowadays and remote study, there’s no reason you can’t do both, as long as you have the discipline and you are willing to make many sacrifices along the way.
There’s also the problem that people get discouraged when they’re racially maligned when they get through the ranks. The number of times I’ve heard, ‘They don’t pick you,’ ‘You don’t fit in’ – if enough people keep saying that you might actually start to believe it.
“The racism (Khawaja has been exposed to cricket) was both overt and casual. But I had the confidence to speak up when something didn’t feel right, and I know not everyone does.
“Kids need support, we need to talk openly and let them know that, ‘Hey, you’re not the only one going through this, we’ve been through this, we’ve seen this, we’ve been through it, and we’ve moved on. You can do the same thing ‘.
“I think that’s a really important message because it can be demoralizing when you feel left out or isolated. Until you’ve been in that situation, you don’t know what it feels like. But if that’s your dream and your passion, then You should go for it. Because when you get through the ranks now everyone – from Cricket Australia to the teammates you have – is all great people. They don’t care who you are or where you come from. ”
Khawaja recalls hearing derogatory jokes about indigenous peoples on a regular basis when he first arrived in Queensland in 2012, which he said had “become the norm” in the squadron environment.
He has since helped shift that culture significantly, and he hopes the same can be done at lower levels.
“It’s gotten a lot better … but that doesn’t mean we can’t keep improving, and it’s the same for everyone – it doesn’t matter who you are, it’s all about acceptance,” he said. Whether you are black, white, Asian or white. Whatever your sexuality may be. Whatever it is, in the end it’s all about being respectful and tolerant of other people.
“That’s what it’s all about, and that’s what we’re trying to achieve.”
Khawaja’s work with CA will be covered by a broader ‘Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan’, which includes three specific strands: disability, gender diversity and sexuality, and cultural diversity.
The governing body will group CA employees with outside members, such as Khawaja, to use their lived experiences to provide a more precise framework around which to build each action plan.
In addition to 25 years of experience as a player of South Asian descent in amateur and professional cricket, Khawaja brings the perspective of a new parent (his wife Rachel gave birth to their first child, Aisha, in July), while in 2019 he founded the Usman Khawaja Foundation, which aims to “reduce the disadvantage of young people through educational and cricket opportunities”.
Also involved in the working group are Dandenong-based Kuwaiti women’s cricket team captain Maryam Omar, cricket journalist Gaurav Joshi and Sri Lankan cricket great Asanka Gurusinha, the new head coach of the Nigerian men’s team and a digital and marketing expert.
And while Khawaja makes an effort to point out that professional-level selection should be strictly based on performance criteria, he reiterates the need for a more inclusive grass-roots environment.
“A major reason why I love sports is that when I first came to Australia I didn’t speak English, and all I could do (to mingle with other kids) was exercise,” he added .
“It breaks all the barriers. That’s what I’m trying to push, and that’s why the Usman Khawaja Foundation also started – trying to break those barriers, to teach parents, ‘Hey, this is the best way to do it, bring them in sports’.
“It doesn’t matter what sport. It is so important to give these children the right opportunities to excel and surpass.”
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