Forgiven? Not so fast

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South Africa may have forgiven Pakistan cricket team captain Sarfraz Ahmed, but we should not follow suit so quickly. Remarks about South African player Andile Phehlukwayo’s race, family, and faith were made by our captain during an ODI in Durban.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) quickly took notice and although it is privately reviewing the matter with possible suspensions as consequence, a more in-depth analysis is required. The limited attention paid to the story and its quick fading from the limelight indicates that many fans and others did not consider the comments as crass and highly objectionable. This is unacceptable.

Sarfraz has been lucky as has the Pakistan team, most recently seen shaking hands with Phehlukwayo and apologizing in person. Their public relations liaisons have taken the necessary steps to quickly do damage control and save face. The national cricket industry’s reputation was only rescued not long ago after match-fixing scandals so this episode was unhelpful. Sarfraz is in a leadership role. His voice can be assumed as reflecting the entire team’s sentiments – a team that represents a country that has experienced plentiful racism within the last century and should understand what it feels like to be on the receiving end of such remarks.

Furthermore, be it team captain or not, every single player is watched by the impressionable youth of this country. It is, therefore, a responsibility upon players to demonstrate prosocial values rather than perpetuating divisive ideologies, be they about race, family, or beliefs – especially given recent headlines in Pakistan about the lengthy case of Aasia Bibi and the fatal consequences of divisive ideologies it has produced in the last decade. Sarfraz may have meant his comments mildly but certainly such rhetoric should not be part of anyone’s speech.

Our culture of judging persons first based on race and complexion has been a long-time ailment. The categorization of human beings we interact with by race needs to be stopped and this will happen once honest and courageous discourse is opened. Should the ICC hand punishment to Sarfraz, it will help to realize the foulness of such remarks. For now, generations continue to perpetuate racist sentiments. Mild or otherwise, such sentiments deserve no platform in any dimension. Some of us, however, have given it a sense of normalcy to talk about it from subjective points of view. It is necessary to call such mentions out and change the lack of accountability that accompanies.

The Pakistan Cricket Board should complete its own internal review to acknowledge that its players carry a major responsibility of portraying the positive aspects of Pakistan to the world. South Africa has been magnanimous in forgiving Sarfraz. As for Sarfraz, he needs to be reminded of a modified version of the quote by late American Basketball Coach John Wooden: ‘character is who you are when no one is watching’ – in Sarfraz’s case, when no one is ‘listening’.