There has been much furore in the cricketing world over the last couple of days after the ICC (International Cricket Council) appointed match referee for the ongoing England-India Test match censured England player Moeen Ali for wearing wrist bands in support of Gaza. One the second day of the Test match, when he batted, Ali wore wristbands that said “Free Palestine” and “Save Gaza”.
While the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) absolved him of any wrongdoing claiming it was his personal beliefs, the ICC has been less kind to him stating that this is in violation of the ICC code that prevents cricketers from making political or racial statements on the field. Ali has been asked to play the rest of the game without the wrist bands, and might face a fine for the violation of the Code of Conduct.
What has complicated matters, however, is that during the third day of the Test match, the English players (including Ali) all wore a “Help for Heroes” message on their shirt collars. Help for heroes is a UK military charity and the symbol on the shirts was meant to commemorate a century of the start of the Great War. As expected this supposed “double standards” by the ICC (allowing the England team to wear a message in support of a charity but not allowing Ali to wear a message in support of Palestine) has drawn attention from commentators about double standards by the ICC.
While it is true that the ongoing undeclared war between Israel and Hamas has been largely one-sided in terms of casualties, and that a large number of Palestinian civilians have been collateral damage in the conflict, we should look at Ali’s wristbands as some kind of a positioning with respect to an (undeclared) ongoing war. And in order to determine whether his message was appropriate, we should use the “flip test”.
What if instead of supporting Gaza, a player in the ongoing Test (Virat Kohli, say, without loss of generality) wore wrist bands supporting Israel? What if Kohli wore bands that said “Save Israel” or “Free Israel”? Would the ICC have reacted similarly? And if the ICC had reacted similarly would commentators have reacted the same way as they have now, censuring the ICC for its stance?
I’m not trying to take sides here, and whether Ali’s wristbands were to be banned is a complex issue beyond the scope of this blog. All I’m trying to say here, however, is that a decision on a case like this should be agnostic of the side that the possibly offensive player is taking. A political statement is a political statement, and whether it falls within the limits of the code of conduct has to be determined irrespective of the side that it is taking. That is the only way regulation can be impartial.