Krishna Kumar had long dreamed of watching the Indian cricket team play in Australia. But when that dream materialized at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) earlier this month, the experience, he says, was belittling.
A well-traveled sports fan, Kumar has attended Cricket World Cup games in India, Australia and Sri Lanka and has also supported Nigeria, the country where he grew up, at the FIFA World Cup in South Africa.
“Nowhere did I ever experience any form of racism in all my sporting experiences attending these events,” Kumar tells CNN Sport.
“The Sydney Test day three is when I really got to see the ugly side.”
In the stands, Kumar says he heard chants of “curry munchers” directed at India’s players and fans, while also being told to “stop waving (his) f**king flag” and to “shut the f**k up and sit down.”
“To me, it is hard to believe that the staff or security at the SCG were not able to hear this … it’s baffling, it’s shocking that no one took action on day three (about) the crowd behavior,” says Kumar.
On the fourth day of the Test, which Kumar did not attend, six people were ejected after allegations of racist abuse halted play. This came a day after Indian bowlers Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj complained of hearing racist slurs while fielding near the boundary rope.
Cricket Australia (CA) confirmed on January 27 that members of the Indian team were subjected to racial abuse following an investigation, but said the spectators who were questioned and removed from the ground on the fourth day did not engage in racist behavior.
“CA’s own investigation into the matter remains open, with CCTV footage, ticketing data and interviews with spectators still being analyzed in an attempt to locate those responsible,” said Sean Carroll, CA’s Head of Integrity and Security.
“Spectators who are found to have breached CA’s anti-harassment code face lengthy bans, further sanctions and referral to NSW Police.
“CA’s investigation concluded that the spectators filmed and/or photographed by media in the Brewongle Stand concourse at the conclusion of the 86th over on day four of the Test did not engage in racist behavior.”
In a statement sent to CNN on January 27, a NSW Police spokesperson said a number of men were spoken with following the incident on the fourth day of the Test.
“Police have continued inquiries, speaking with several people allegedly involved as well as a number of witnesses who were present in the area at the time,” said the spokesperson.
“No evidence to support any prosecution for any offense has been located; as such the police investigation has been finalized.
“However, should anyone possess information which would support any such allegation, that should be brought to the attention of police.”
After the third day, Kumar says he wasn’t surprised to discover the Indian team had reported hearing racial abuse
“When I reached home and I heard that the Indian management had complained about racial slurs and abuse at Siraj as well as Bumrah, I didn’t bat an eyelid because it was going on the whole day,” he says.
Determined not to let his experience keep him away from the game, Kumar, whose wife and two sons are Australian, returned to the ground on the fifth day armed with four banners that read: “Rivalry is good, racism is not,” “No racism mate,” “Brown inclusion matters #BIM” and “Cricket Australia – more diversity please.”
However, as stadium security staff inspected the banners at the gate, Kumar was informed that one of them was too big to take in. He asked to speak to a supervisor about taking another banner in, at which point he says he was told by a member of staff that “if you want to address this matter, go back to where you came from.”
Furthermore, Kumar alleges he overheard the same individual telling security staff to give him “a proper frisking” after he returned from putting the banners back in his car.
“A normal frisking of a bag takes 10-15 seconds. Mine went on for two-and-a-half minutes, unnecessarily,” says Kumar, adding that his metal detector check “went for a minute – from head to toe.”
Once inside the ground, Kumar says he was subjected to what he felt was stricter security presence.
“There was no security in front of me (but then) they changed the formation … I had about 10 to 15, 16 (sets of) eyes at me, which I thought was totally unnecessary … the entire day I was profiled.”
Kumar also says he has a 65-second video showing the same security guard who confronted him about the banners at the gate “walking around the ground and picking on only Indian fans and pestering them.”
In a statement sent to CNN, Venues NSW, the owner, coordinator and promoter of the SCG, said: “Venues NSW is aware of the matter and has met with the complainant.
“We are investigating the complainant’s allegations, and we’ll make no further comment until our investigation is complete.”
Kumar also said that he had met with officials at the SCG last week to assist with the investigation.
‘You can face racism with a chilled glass of beer’
In response to the abuse he said he encountered on day three, Kumar chose to approach one of the individuals engaging in chants of “curry munchers” – who had also shouted at him about his flag usage – with a peace offering.
“I thought, I’m going to buy him a chilled glass of beer,” says Kumar. “I got up and I went down and I got two glasses of beer.
“Two or three overs later, he bought two beers, one for me and one for him. We took a picture together, and that was the end of the racial slur … we were all cheering for good cricket.
“It’s not necessary that you have to tackle racism with anger or frustration all the time. You can face racism with a chilled glass of beer and some friendship.”
Kumar adds that it has been an “emotional rollercoaster” since he decided to speak publicly about the racism he says he experienced at the SCG. He adds that he would “definitely think twice” before taking his sons to a game.
“There is so much hate right now,” he says.
“And sometimes we may need to pause and think: ‘Can you have some more love? Can we have some more tolerance? Can we have some more empathy?’”
In response to the Indian team’s allegations of racial abuse during the Sydney Test, Carroll said on January 10: “The abuse of cricketers by crowd members is not acceptable.
“We thank the Indian team for their vigilance in reporting (the) incident, which we are now in the process of investigating … It is most regrettable that an otherwise excellent Test match contested in tremendous spirit by two friendly rivals has been tarnished by the actions of a small number of spectators.”
On the field, India’s campaign in Australia ended happily.
A record-breaking run chase at the Gabba – Australia’s first defeat at the Brisbane ground since 1988 – saw the series draw to a thrilling conclusion with a 2-1 victory for the touring side.