Moeen Ali wore a plastic wrist band while he was batting for England. Hardly a big news story, but the band had “Save Gaza” written on it. That Moeen Ali is a British Muslim is well known, so much so Michael Henderson wrote a column that said he was wrong for having his faith as a motivation.
Today the ICC have said they are investigating him for wearing this wristband. Apparently you are allowed to have a message of support for a Supermarket, but one that shows support for the innocent civilians is wrong. There are those that agree with this stance. They will tell you that sport and politics shouldn’t mix. This is despite the fact that sport and politics mix all the time. From the sporting boycott of South Africa, to the England’s team refusal to tour Zimbabwe, to the refusal to allow Sri Lankan players to take part in IPL matches in Chennai. Cricket is littered with political interference.
Sport is a pawn that is used all the time, more often than not by those with the most power to make a statement. Perhaps in an ideal world there would be a disconnect, like we sometimes hope there would be with the economic realities of the world. Unfortunately sport does not exist in a vacuum. To believe that it does is nonsense.
People talk of wanting sportsmen to have personalities, then when they do show any sign of having an individual thought they are sanctioned for it.
In fairness to the ECB they have said that there is no case to answer, the ICC seem to disagree. The ECB’s stance may be coloured by the fact that the team will be showing their support for the Help for Heroes campaign at the Ageas Bowl tomorrow. It would be hard for them to say Moeen was wrong to show support for the participants in one conflict while showing their support for others.
Others will ask where it will stop. What if a player wore a BNP emblem or other such insignia. If they make that personal choice it is just that. Why do we want the people that are sports people to have a bleached clean persona that have no rough edges? Why is not OK for someone to simultaneously have a political opinion and play professional sport? We may not agree, that does not remove their right to have a say.
Some may say that allowing a small gesture means there will be bigger ones. Sometimes bigger gestures are needed, and sometimes sports people with the guts to make that stand can make a huge difference. The chances of it happening in every match are extremely remote, but those who like the idea of expressionless sport will tell you we will have an “apparel war breaking out.” That there will be no stopping politically minded sports people wearing “BNP headbands”.
This kind of Daily Mail style “the floodgates are opening” argument is the definition of the politics of fear and clearly jibberish. Moeen Ali wearing a wrist band isn’t going to start a wave of unmitigated political protest on sporting fields around the world.
Some opinions are unpleasant and hard for us to understand, that does not mean they should not be heard. Free expression is a human right, people think playing sport at the highest level means you lose it.