The last thing Ollie Robinson needed as he mulls over being disbarred from the England cricket team indefinitely for writing abusive and racist tweets as a teenager is the support of Boris Johnson.
The British Prime Minister’s dubious views on race and various other isms may not appear on Twitter but they have adorned the pages of allegedly serious newspapers and magazines for years. What’s more, unlike Robinson, he has usually been paid for them, often handsomely. At least Robinson isn’t an opinion for hire.
But his intervention, in another sense, is entirely appropriate: because it highlights how ridiculous it is that we can fill literally thousands of column inches with the condemnation of a sportsman just starting out on his international career if we are going to let the leader of the country – the man who should set the ultimate behavioural example to the nation – pretty much off scot-free.
Only recently Muslim leaders labelled a report into Islamophobia in the Tory party “a whitewash”.
Johnson’s well known reference to Muslim women wearing the burkha as “letterboxes” is surely as offensive as Robinson’s use of an emoji to refer to some people of Asian heritage, yet the PM gets off with a slap on the wrist from the professor who authored the report as merely “being insensitive to Muslim communities”.
Like, er, really?…
That report was commissioned by Johnson, as was the investigation into the money spent on redecorating his Downing Street quarters, mildly criticised as no more than “unwise”. Sensing a theme here? It’s one of someone unable to accept responsibility for many of his actions. And before him, we had a man who, around university age, is alleged to have done something possibly culturally insensitive to a pig’s head.
Yet, unlike some on Twitter demanding that Robinson never play for England again, there seem to be few calls for Johnson to be quietly lifted from his No 10 bed and carted off to the Tower of London for some remedial work on the rack – even if more than a few of us would be happy to witness that.
But Robinson is being placed in his own figurative Tower – based on their performances this season, I think that’s probably an apt description of the Sussex first XI – with no knowledge of when Tom Harrison will send an emissary from the Lord’s office with a parchment declaring him fit for polite society again.
Let’s be clear: Robinson’s tweets were seriously offensive, although I’m surprised there has been relatively little said about the one referring to Gary Speed when there is such a focus on mental health issues these days – and I don’t necessarily buy the argument that you do not know what you are doing at the age of 18. But people mature at different rates, they are brought up in a multitude of circumstances and family set-ups that colour their views and opinions; their socialisation takes many forms.
In a lot of cases, exposure to different experiences, travel, new people – the kind of thing an international cricketer might expect in an extended career – may soften hard edges or even bring about a complete change in a person’s outlook over a period of years.
But beyond that, I wonder what the endgame here is. What do those furious at Robinson really want? How contrite do we need him to be? Should everyone who has had a racist or misogynistic viewpoint or thought at any stage of their lives be hounded out of their jobs? Do they completely lose their right to function in society? Is there ever room for forgiveness? Is an apology not an apology when it’s put together by a PR executive?
There is no doubt that whatever Johnson and Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, say, the ECB had little choice but to take some action as the much-heralded “day of unity” went awry in the most disorienting and dispiriting way imaginable. As an organisation it is fighting perceptions of institutional racism of its own, putting a generous spin on the dropping of the case by two black umpires when, more accurately, it was on a legal technicality.
If it was to attempt to brush the Robinson issue under the carpet it would lose more credibility than it has by backing the Hundred.
Some will argue that condemning Johnson as an excuse for Robinson’s own misdemeanours is irrelevant or misses the point.
But I don’t think so. Our example of how to operate in the world is formed by our parents, our schools, significant adults – people who hold authority over us, at least in the short-term. What is the Government and what is Johnson if not the ultimate authority figure?
Yes, we should criticise Robinson, yes we should find a fitting punishment, but if the example to society is not upheld by those at the top, this will not be the last case of rehabilitation that we need to deal with.
NB: This is a personal opinion and not necessarily reflective of the views of Guerilla Cricket as a whole