Usman Khawaja’s support for Gaza is well played

December 20, 2023
Usman Khawaja for Palestine
Usman Khawaja is the latest athlete to challenge the idea that 'sport and politics don't mix'. Image: Green Left

In the lead-up to the Test Cricket match in Boorloo/Perth between Australia and Pakistan, cricketer Usman Khawaja said he planned to wear shoes with the message: “All lives are equal” and “Freedom is a human right” in support of the Palestinian people of Gaza.

It was widely reported that Khawaja would not be wearing the message on his shoes. “The International Cricket Council (ICC) have told me that I can’t wear my shoes on-field because they believe it’s a political statement under their guidelines.”

Khawaja said, while he would respect the ICC’s decision, which Cricket Australia (CA) also backed: “I do not believe this is so. It is a humanitarian appeal. I will respect their view and decision, but I will fight it and seek to gain approval. Freedom is a human right.”

During the Test, Khawaja wore a black armband and played a key role in Australia’s 360-run victory, scoring a half-century in the second innings.

Todd Greenberg, chief executive of the Australian Cricketers’ Association (ACA), said Khawaja had handled the situation in a professional manner. He said the ACA would support Khawaja’s bid to gain ICC approval to wear the shoes in future matches.

Meanwhile, Nine News Wide World of Sports reported on December 19 that a number of spectators had been ejected from the Perth Stadium during the final day’s play for displaying a banner supporting Khawaja, with “All lives are equal” and “Freedom is a human right” in the colours of the Palestinian flag. They chanted “Free Palestine” when ejected.

Two other spectators were forced to remove their shirts which had the same messages.

Unionists for Palestine activist Alex Whisson said as a “long-standing fan of test cricket and as a fan of Usman Khawaja”, he and his friend decided we had to do something in response to his brilliant “shoe statement”.

“The follow-up video he posted on Instagram was amazing,” Whisson said. “I found it both beautiful and inspiring. So wearing those T-shirts at the stadium while enjoying the game was of course the least we could do to honour what Uzzie had said and done. All power to him.”

Perth Stadium management said the sign had been removed because it “contravened Cricket Australia’s terms and conditions of entry” but claimed the patrons were removed because they were engaging in anti-social behaviour.

This is not the first time that athletes and sports fans have been censured for challenging the idea that “politics and sport should not mix”.

England’s Moen Ali in 2014 wore wristbands with “Save Gaza” and “Free Palestine”. Even though the England and Wales Cricket Board cleared him to do so, the ICC said he was in breach of its code of conduct which banned equipment or clothing carrying a political message.

During the recent Cricket World Cup in India, Pakistani wicket-keeper Muhammad Rizwan dedicated his team’s six-wicket win against Sri Lanka, in which he scored a crucial 131 runs, to the people of Gaza. “This was for our brothers and sisters in Gaza,” he said.

While ICC regulations allow players to use social media platforms away from the field of play, many Indian cricket fans called for the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI) and fans to boycott India’s match against Pakistan.

It is telling that the three cricketers who have spoken out in support of Palestine, and have attracted censure, have been Muslims and Pakistani, or Pakistani origin.

In 2019 the ICC allowed Indian cricketer MS Dhoni to wear camouflage caps in support of the Indian army during border tensions with Pakistan — a clear violation of ICC regulations.

Khawaja has previously received abuse for his support of the Black Lives Matter movement and for refusing to wear kits emblazoned with alcohol sponsorship.

He is not the only Australian athlete who has received censure and criticism for political statements. Others include Peter Norman’s support of John Carlos and Tommy Smith at the 1968 Olympics or more recently Aboriginal netballer Donnal Wallam refusing to wear the logo of Gina Rinehart’s Prospect Mining and Australian men's cricket team captain Pat Cummins and others showing their support for climate action.

There are plenty of examples where authorities allow sport and politics to mix: sporting events being awash with corporate sponsorship; gambling ads and militarism; and the naming of a cricket stadium in Gujarat, India, after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Challenging fans and players to examine cricket’s colonial legacy and racial inequities, CLR James asked in 1963: “What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?”

This call remains relevant today.

The solidarity of athletes and sports fans standing in solidarity with the oppressed is crucial: Sporting events, like any part of society, are contested spaces.

Challenging the unjust status quo in the pursuit of a better world is not only inspiring, it is necessary.

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.