What King Kohli taught us about booing
BOOING in Australian sport has been the hot topic of conversation in this country for the better part of four years, yet it took one gesture from an Indian cricket captain on the other side of the world to challenge every perception about whether the practice is still acceptable today.
To set the scene, we have to backtrack to March 2018.
The Australian Test team on a tour of South Africa is caught doing the unthinkable: cheating.
As images of Cameron Bancroft shoving sandpaper down his whites filtered back to Australia, one could only feel the waves of shame that accompanied them.
As an Australian cricket fan, there was – and still is – no greater guilt than learning your national side had acted in way that had brought the game into disrepute, and left an everlasting black mark on our nation’s cricketing history.
The Poms cheat, the Pakis cheat, but us Aussies, we never cheat – or so we thought.
Skipper Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner were reprimanded for their roles in the saga – Smith more so for turning a blind eye to the sandpaper plot, and Warner for helping orchestrate it – as was Bancroft.
The three were banished to the cricket wilderness to serve lengthy bans from playing cricket for Australia.
There was a sense of sadness seeing Smith, in particular – once perceived as the bastion of cricketing good in this country, his batsmanship putting him alongside the likes of Ponting and Bradman – reduced to scratching around in overseas T20 leagues on his long road to redemption.
In April, Smith and Warner began their comeback by being named in Australia’s World Cup squad.
But while they’d served their time in terms of the sanctions handed down by Cricket Australia, they certainly hadn’t done so in the eyes of the fans who watched the duo play firstly in the warm-up matches, and in each of the Aussies’ group matches so far.
The booing by the crowds in England, from all different nationalities, has been incessant each time Smith and Warner have batted, or even gone near the ball.
But a moment in Australia’s match against India will go down as one of the most intriguing and memorable acts of sportsmanship in World Cup – and perhaps cricket, more generally – history.
While fielding on the fence, Smith was booed relentlessly by the Indian faithful.
Their cricketing deity, Virat Kohli, was at the crease – yet despite being in the heat of a World Cup battle against one of his country’s fiercest rivals, in Australia, he looked towards his own supporters and gestured for them to clap the fallen Aussie skipper.
To Kohli, Smith had done his penance – he said as much in a press conference after his team went on to win the match – and should be allowed to move past ‘Sandpaper-gate’.
The engagement between Kohli and the Indian fans comes at a time when booing in Australian Rules football has again risen to be the number one talked about sporting topic in the country.
The conversation had been bubbling along due to Geelong’s Gary Ablett Jnr being subjected to howling boos on a weekly basis from opposition fans, but somewhat reached fever pitch last week following the impending release of two documentaries about the booing of Sydney champion Adam Goodes.
Goodes, an Australian of the Year and proud indigenous Australian, infamously called out a 13-year-old Collingwood fan at a game in 2013, where she called the Swans superstar an “ape”.
For whatever reason – whether racially motivated, or otherwise – Goodes was subjected to repeated booing from opposition crowds in the two years that followed.
The treatment intensified during Indigenous Round in 2015, when Goodes celebrated a goal with a ‘war dance’, whereby he imitated throwing a spear at a group of Carlton supporters.
He eventually retired from the game at the end of that season, citing stress caused by the booing as the main contributing factor for his decision to hang up the boots.
This year, the AFL apologised for not doing enough “to stand with (Goodes), and call out” the treatment that drove him into retirement.
The repeated booing of Ablett Jnr is still ongoing, with the Cats champion – who is a devout Christian – coming under scrutiny from fans for ‘liking’ an Instagram post from rugby star Israel Folau stating “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters” would be going to hell for their beliefs and wrongdoings.
Interestingly, Carlton’s Matthew Kennedy liked the same post, but hasn’t been subject to the same intense booing being directed at Ablett Jnr.
But with booing being a time-honoured tradition of every sporting match, Kohli’s defence of Smith really does challenge the status quo: is there no longer a place for booing in sport?
It’s a question that will have a different answer no matter who you ask.
But in short, I believe there is a place for booing: but let’s not confuse booing with abuse, which is where the argument seems to have become blurred somewhere along the line.
Booing in the spur of the moment is something that should never be eradicated from the game, despite the AFL’s recent best efforts to do all it can to sanitise how people behave at the footy.
As a Cats fan, I booed the hell out of Adelaide skipper Taylor Walker when he ran past the footy and bumped Zach Tuohy high during a match at Adelaide Oval last year.
He was put on report for the hit, and as a Geelong fan the best way to express my displeasure at Walker’s conduct was to boo him.
It goes the same for Crows fans who booed Joel Selwood every time he received a free kick for a high tackle – they saw an injustice, and they let everyone around them know it.
It’s all part of the pantomime that is attending the footy.
This past week the AFL had a fan ejected from a game for calling an umpire “a bald-headed flog”.
By doing so, the AFL has waded into very murky waters: what is, and is not, acceptable to say at the footy moving forward?
It’s a slippery slope if the powers that be start censoring speech at the footy that isn’t expletive-laden, or discriminatory.
The irony is the AFL has done very little to help protect the other bald-headed bloke wearing the number four jumper for Geelong, who’s been copping it from opposition fans for weeks.
Whatever side of the fence you sit on in relation to whether booing is appropriate or not, most people would agree the premeditated or targeted booing of a particular player – no matter how you try to defend it – is ugly.
It was ugly when it was happening to Goodes, it’s ugly when it happens to Ablett, and it’s ugly when it happens to Smith and Warner.
The booing of these players was, and still is, motivated by different reasons, but the end result is the same.
In sport, we’re supposed to celebrate our champions.
We’ve already booed one out of the game in Goodes – the greatest shame would be seeing it happen again.