Text of Letter from Ben Colby to Melbourne Cricket Club, 30 December 2018 … see with highlighting emphasis added by The Editor, Thuppahi and Colby bio-data at end
Dear Melbourne Cricket Club,
I am writing in relation to the Crowds Complaint Process at the MCG and the maladministration of it by Victoria Police that I witnessed in Bay M21 during the afternoon of Saturday 29th of December 2018. Indian cricket supporters were threatened with eviction and fines by a police sergeant, allegedly following the Crowds Complaint Process, for no apparent reason other than that they were supporting the Indian men’s cricket team. Supporters of the Australian men’s cricket team behaving in the same manner in Bay M21 were not targeted by police.
I would like to discover what complaints were made against the Indian supporters, if this is possible in conjunction with the MCC’s privacy obligations, and draw attention to the weaknesses of the process as it was explained to me by the police sergeant.
You will notice that I have copied in a number of different bodies as well as Victorian and Australian Federal Ministers to this letter. I trust that its contents will be of interest to them.
Ethnically targeted policing at the MCG
To give context, I will describe my afternoon at the cricket and observations in detail.
I took a seat in Bay M21, perhaps 10 rows from the front, shortly after commencement of play on Saturday the 29th of December. At this stage, the ground was relatively empty of spectators. Shortly afterwards, 2 young men arrived and sat in the row in front of me. As they periodically called out messages of support to the Indian batsmen, it was apparent that they were supporting India. (Throughout this letter I will refer to them as the 2 Indian supporters or the 2 young men.)
The 2 Indian supporters grew particularly excited when Rishabh Pant began to bat expansively and, after he was dismissed, I exchanged some comments with them about Pant’s performance throughout the series.
Later in the morning, as Australia batted, the 2 young men grew more voluble. They heckled with comments about Australia’s batting performances, the tenability of Tim Paine as Australian men’s captain (calling him a “pretty boy” and taunting, “What happens when Smithie gets back?”) and harping on the seemingly inevitable Australian loss in the match. Frequently, their comments were inane. I noticed that they would open their mouths and start speaking without a plan and, as a result, their intended barb proved gibberish.
However, while loud, the 2 Indian supporters were not offensive. At no point did they use curse words or any language that was objectionable. I have a low tolerance for boorish behaviour. I usually skip Boxing Day and often Day 2 of the MCG Test to avoid having to sit with drunk brutes. I will always change seats and/or speak my mind when faced with loutish behaviour. On this day, with the ground 80% empty, I could have easily moved to an equally good viewing position but felt no compulsion to. Rather than find anything obscene in the conduct of the 2 young men, I felt it added to the atmosphere.
Sometimes the young men shouted to the Indian players in a language I could not understand. Presumably, as it was understood by the other Indian supporters in the bay and the players, this was Hindi. I am not sure if anything offensive was said at these times but from the responses – laughter from the crowd and the wry, sometimes weary, smiles of the athletes – I presume not.
Through the morning, the ground remained fairly empty but during the lunch interval more people entered Bay M21. While most of these were Indian supporters, a group of 4 young men who were clearly Australian supporters sat in front of the 2 Indian supporters (2 rows in front of me). I wondered whether this would cause problems and whether it would be time to move but instead, once play recommenced, a jolly banter developed between the 2 groups. As Australia lost wickets, the Australian supporters would pray for rain and the 2 Indian supporters chanted, “Rain, rain, go away” and explained that 1.2 billion Indian praying for victory was more efficacious than 4 Australian supporters. Rather than being distasteful, the conversation that developed was something of a cultural interchange: “1.2 billion people. Just think of that. A billion is one thousand million.”
I would like to make it clear that at no point did I participate in any of this, merely observed, and spoke nothing to either camps after the discussion of Rishabh Pant.
Then, part-way through the 2nd session, 2 police officers – both male – accompanied by 2 yellow-shirted security guards entered the bay and stood in our proximity for around 15 minutes. The badinage between the 2 groups continued and the Indian supporters continued to taunt the Australians’ performance with the same frequency as before.
I was surprised when one of the police officers then came and sat beside the 2 Indian supporters. He explained that a complaint had been made through the Crowd Complaints service against the occupants of their seats.
For the benefit of anyone reading this unaware of the service, spectators at the MCG are occasionally reminded, by a prompt on the stadium screens, that they can text in reports of offensive behaviour – especially for pejorative based on race, gender and sexual orientation – to a nominated number.
The police officer told the 2 men that he had observed them and found nothing objectionable in their behaviour. However, he reiterated that a complaint had been made against them and suggested that they consider their discourse from throughout the morning and whether there was anything offensive said that may have upset another member of the crowd and led to the complaint. The police officer was courteous, empathetic and clear. Sat directly behind, I heard the entire conversation and was impressed by his conduct.
The young Australian supporters then turned to the police officer and explained that there had been nothing obscene in the conduct of the 2 Indian supporters. The police officer thanked the Australian supporters for letting him know. At no point did he speak to the Australian supporters about their behaviour or conduct as the complaint had only been made against the 2 Indian supporters.
The 2 Indian supporters looked dejected and various members of the crowd spoke to them and showed their support and confusion that a complaint had been made against them. The group of 4 Australian supporters were particularly voluble in this.
As the afternoon worse on, following the tea interval, Bay M21 grew crowded. One member of the group of 4 Australian supporters left. A large number of Indian supporters entered the bay. A few scattered Australian supporters entered the bay, too.
The 2 Indian supporters continued their heckling throughout the afternoon on similar themes. They were joined in verbal jousting by the new Australian supporters who had entered the bay. This reached a crescendo as Nathan Lyon and Pat Cummins batted through the final 15 overs of the day. The Australian supporters heckled lines such as, “Don’t worry, Gary: you’ve made more runs than Kohli” or, when Lyon played a positive shot, “See, Kohli: that’s the way you bat”. The 2 young men, who remained more voluble than any other Indian supporters who had entered the bay, rejoined with comments such as, “Maybe Cameron Bancroft would have helped you to win, Gary”, or, “Not even sandpaper could save you now, Australia”.
Again, I found nothing objectionable in the conduct of either the Australian or Indian supporters. If occasionally dull-witted, there was nothing spoken that carried anything of prejudice or filth.
Then, another group of Indian supporters in the vicinity began a chant of “Gary’s a goner” interjected with beating on empty plastic chairs which the 2 young men joined in.
At this point, 2 police officers – one male, one female – came striding down the bay. Unlike before, the police officers did not stand in the vicinity and assess the situation. Instead, the male officer, whose badge revealed he was a sergeant and his surname began with the letter B, came charging at the 2 Indian supporters with finger outstretched. He bellowed at the supporters that a further complaint had been made against them and that if they didn’t stop ‘it’ right now that he would evict and fine them. He threatened that if any further complaint were made they would be evicted and fined.
The 2 Indian supporters immediately grew quiet and a resigned look entered their faces. The sergeant then turned around to walk off when I asked, “What complaint has been made?”. The sergeant told me that this has nothing to do with me, speaking to me with the same bellowing and intimidatory manner that he used with the 2 Indian supporters. I told the sergeant that I had been seated in the bay the entire day and that nothing objectionable had taken place. The sergeant again started walking off. I asked, ‘Is it because they are brown?’ The sergeant then returned and standing over me, again with the same intimidatory manner, and indignantly told me how low I was for accusing him of racism when he’s just trying to carry out his job. I told the officer that I had no grounds to form a judgement of him and was not accusing him personally of racism, but that I wanted to know what complaint had been made as there was nothing objectionable in the 2 supporters’ behaviour. Instead, it appeared that they were being targeted because they were supporting India. I said that there were white people heckling at Kohli and questioned why no complaint made against them. He repeated that this had nothing to do with me and strode off.
Again, after this interchange, the spectators in the vicinity showed support for the 2 Indian supporters and incomprehension at why a complaint had been made.
I felt sick. I barely comprehended the rest of the day and could not appreciate Pat Cummins’ batting through the final 10 or so overs which, ABC Radio assured me, was fine.
I would like to point out that the 2 young Indian supporters did drink alcohol throughout the afternoon and, so far as I observed, consumed 3 or 4 beers each over the 6 ½ hours that we were sat in the bay. The 4 young Australian supporters, who exchanged in friendly banter with them, also drank and more prodigiously. Toward the end of the afternoon, one of them rested his head against the seat in front of him for 30 minutes and then was not seen again. I noticed that there was vomit on the floor further up the bay. For my part, I drank no alcohol: if you’re interested, I can tell you that I consumed, precisely, 3.6 litres of bottled water, 500 g of cherries, 2 bananas and 3 slices of cold pizza wrapped up from the previous evening’s takeaway.
The 2 Indian supporters remained muted for those final 10 overs except at one point when one bellowed, “Gary, I’ve been told I’m not allowed to yell at you any more but I want you to get out so much that I am risking the fine”. A female member of his contingent urged him to be quiet and grew visibly upset so he made no further noise. The Australian supporters in the vicinity continued to heckle directing all of their comments, which were derogatory without being offensive (as the Indian supporters’ had been), at Virat Kohli. At one stage, an Australian supporter stood up and gave a decent imitation of a chicken.
Following the conclusion of play, I went to find a member of security staff or a police officer to discuss the Crowd Complaints Process. The first person I found was the sergeant, from the earlier interchange, walking through the concourse. I explained that I had spoken to him before in Bay M21 and that I wanted to discuss the incident.
I reiterated to the sergeant that I was not accusing him personally of racism but that objections had been raised against the 2 Indian supporters while Australian supporters indulging in the exact same behaviour were not challenged. The sergeant told me that complaints had been submitted by members of the crowd against the Indian supporters and that, following the Major Events Act, he was compelled to act on those complaints. I asked what complaint had been submitted and how they were assessed. The sergeant told me that he was following the Major Events Act as he was obligated to. He told me to Google the Major Events Act when I got home. When I asked who administered the Crowd Complaints Process and who could I complain to about this he said that I can write to the MCG and Victoria Police if I like but that I should just read the Major Events Act.
I am not a lawyer but this is what I have read in the Major Events Act
Based on my reading and what I witnessed in the 2 Indian supporters’ behaviour, the sergeant in no way carried out the Major Events Act.
Following the sergeant’s direction, I am duly writing to you and copying in the Police Conduct Unit.
Based on my reading and what I witnessed in the 2 Indian supporters’ behaviour, the sergeant in no way carried out the Major Events Act.
Following the sergeant’s direction, I am duly writing to you and copying in the Police Conduct Unit.
What I want
Would you please tell me what complaints were made against the 2 Indian supporters in Bay M21?
I would like to know whether something was said that I was unaware of. I am interested to know if the complaints were submitted by fellow Indian supporters and if something was said in a language other than English which was objectionable. I am particularly interested to know if the complaints were submitted merely because the 2 men were volubly supporting India and denigrating Australia.
As I have demonstrated, there were Australian and Indian supporters in Bay M21 acting in the exact same manner. The Indian supporters were castigated and the Australian supporters were unmolested.
Would you please also explain the Crowd Complaints Process to me?
The sergeant suggested that if any complaint is submitted, Victoria Police are compelled to act on it and threaten the subject of the complaint with ejection and fine.
It seems to me that the first police officer acted correctly: he assessed the situation and then spoke calmly and clearly to the supporters. The sergeant, who came the second time, was intimidatory, bellicose and acted in a manner likely to inflame a situation. He gave no clear direction about what complaint had been made, no opportunity for rebuttal, and did not consult with any other nearby members of the crowd and rejected my comments.
I fully support the ability of members of the MCG crowd to text in offensive behaviour. I have no confidence in the process that follows on from this from how it was administered yesterday. The process should be to assess the situation, clearly communicate what complaint has been made and provide an opportunity to contest the complaint. This should be a conversation rather than heavy-handed dressing down.
I appreciate that the police sergeant was acting on a second complaint made against the 2 Indian supporters but at no point, not even with the earlier police visit, was it made clear what offence the supporters had committed and how they should behave. Even if someone is being heinously discriminatory and obnoxious (which the 2 supporters were not), it should be made clear what behaviour is objectionable. Authority has an obligation to be educative as well as punitive.
I also appreciate that the sergeant has a hard job as a policeman and sees a lot of poor behaviour. However, this does not justify him acting in a maladroit and intimidatory manner. There were less than 20,000 people at the MCG yesterday and, unlike earlier days of the Test, there was nothing I saw that was threatening in the stadium.
The Crowd Complaints Process as it was carried out by the sergeant reminds me of other Victoria Police schemes such as ‘Dob in a Dealer’ or Homeland Security’s ‘If You See Something, Say Something’ which provide a platform for petty reprisals when maladministered by authorities. If the sergeant was, indeed, correct in his administration of the Crowd Complaints Process, I suggest that you review the process so that complaints can be made and action taken without due investigation of a situation.
I would like to highlight the subjectivity of what is considered unacceptable or acceptable behaviour. How is this documented within your policy and procedure regarding crowd behaviour? While the MCG has a policies page (https://www.mcg.org.au/about-us/policies) it has nothing on this subject.
I suggest that you incorporate what is considered unacceptable and acceptable behaviour when members of the crowd are prompted to text complaints.
I would also be interested to learn how texts are treated, how that information is collected, where it is stored, the data security of that private information and how it is shared with other parties. Again, if you can refer me to a policy I would like to read it.
Why do I want this
I am disgusted by what happened in Bay M21 yesterday. I had such a fantastic time at this Test, attending Days 3 and 4, and it has been utterly overshadowed by this incident. Until the visit of the sergeant, I was ready to walk home full of the joy of life, and exhilarated by Christmas/New Year holidays and following a great Test series. Instead, as I mentioned, I felt sick through the final 10 overs of the day. I then walked out dejected, wandered through Fitzroy Gardens and on to Carlton Gardens, telephoned a friend to talk through the incident, somehow wandered to Haymarket, and telephoned my girlfriend on the tram home. I had to undertake physical exercise to work through my feelings, and it took a delicious dinner prepared by my girlfriend and a couple of drinks to feel human again.
No one should leave the MCG feeling like that.
I usually hold onto my MCG tickets as bookmarks using them again and again until they fade and treasuring them as souvenirs of the day. Yesterday’s ticket makes me blanch. If I keep the ticket, it will be only to remind me of this horrible feeling and that I should never forget it. I didn’t come back today. I don’t want to return to the MCG anytime soon.
My girlfriend has asked me to be careful of not centring myself in this situation and making it about my White Guilt.
I can’t imagine how those 2 young men must feel.
I was horrified, but not surprised, when I returned home to find that the Test has been marred by racist behaviour from spectators:
Anyone who visits the MCG should have the same rights to express themselves. A supporter for a visiting side has every right to speak as volubly as an Australian supporter. Visitors to our country are to be cherished and honoured.
In this case, everyone involved in the incidents in Bay M21 yesterday had broad Australian accents: the 2 young men supporting India, the various Australian supporters, Victoria Police and myself. We are all Australians. We have different ideas and different loyalties in cricket, and that’s a beautiful thing.
The Crowd Complaints Process should operate to uphold this. It should be used to draw attention to and eradicate obnoxious, offensive behaviour. It should never be used to silence someone who is enjoying the same freedoms as other members of the crowd. Yesterday, it was used to uphold what it is designed to stamp out: racism and ethnic prejudice.
Yesterday’s incident is a microcosm of Australia. Take, for example, Virat Kohli. Kohli visited Australia 4 years ago and acted like an Australian cricketer being hard, brash and unbowed. Australia hates him for it and have jeered ever since. This usually takes form in far more noxious language than that used by the Australian supporters in Bay M21 yesterday and I have heard horrible things said about Kohli at the MCG, at Perth (where I have the misfortunate obligation to regularly visit my father, an ardent WACA Member), in Sri Lanka where, during last year’s India v Sri Lanka series, Australian tourists thought themselves hilarious in upbraiding Kohli in rude taunts, and in pubs and other public places throughout Australia.
The ESPN Cricinfo article referred to above states: “Other chants from the bay, such as “Kohli’s a wanker”, were the cause for some complaints from other spectators but not deemed worthy of a warning. Similar chants about opposition players have been part of the MCG atmosphere for some years, famously including New Zealand’s Sir Richard Hadlee among others.”
I struggle to comprehend why offensive language can ever be accepted, and particularly if the justification is that it forms part of a noxious 40 year tradition.
Australians have meted out similar behaviour in recent times to other visiting cricketers who act like Australians: Stuart Broad and Faf du Plessis immediately spring to mind.
The 2 Indian supporters from yesterday were Australians who acted like Australians – engaging in loud raillery – and they were punished for doing so.
I don’t expect the MCC to change Australia’s wool-headed attitude toward inclusivity – the indignation of the sergeant at being called a racist but his obstinacy to see that he was acting to uphold ethnic bias for example – but I do expect you to review the Crowd Complaints Process to ensure that something like yesterday never occurs again at the MCG.
I look forward to speaking with you more about this. You can find my contact details on my letterhead: please feel free to ring me on +61 472 695 337 and I’m very happy to visit the MCC to discuss this.
With many thanks,
This MEMO was sent to the following institutions
Melbourne Cricket Club, PO Box 175, East Melbourne 8002 …………..firstname.lastname@example.org
- Diversity and Inclusion, Cricket Australia, 60 Jolimont St, Jolimont 3002
- Police Conduct Unit, GPO Box 913, Melbourne 3001
- Victorian Multicultural Commission, GPO Box 4698 Melbourne 3001
- Mr. Rakesh Malhotra, Consul General of India in Melbourne, 33247 Domain LPO, Melbourne 3004
- Australia India Society Of Victoria Inc., 1401 Ferntree Gully Road, Scoresby 3179
- The Hon Martin Pakula MP, Minister for Sport, Level 26, 121 Exhibition Street, Melbourne 3000
* With Nicholas Brookes Ben Colby co-authored the article: “The Political Tussles behind the Cricketing Grounds in Colombo, 1945-2018,” 29 November 2018, https://thuppahis.com/2018/11/29/the-political-tussles-behind-the-cricketing-grounds-in-colombo-1945-2018* Ben Colby has been a “Life Member” of the Galle Cricket Club since 2016 and religiously watched the Test Matches played by Sri Lanka against Australia and India in Sri Lanka n recent years. …. He is pictured here in the foreground at the club
BEN with Abhiyan from India, a fellow Aussies Nick White and a young Lankan fan at the Galle Cricket Club in 2017 …. and then at the SSC grounds in Pissu Percy’s grip
AN AFFIDAVIT from Michael Roberts
Ben is an avid cricket fan and lover of cricket. Of English migrant stock he favours Sri Lanka for some reasons I do not yet fathom. He is meticulous in his enthusiasm and his investigative capacities have been displayed in the article on the surfeit of Test cricket grounds in Colombo penned in association with Nick Brookes of UK. — an essay which appeared first in the ESPN outlet CRICKET MONTHLY before Thuppahi snaffled it as well. One classic example of his eye/memory for detail is seen in his capacity to list how much water he drank at the MCG and what precisely he ate!
The issue he raises is important: it indicates how jaundiced personnel can deploy the well-meant rules of the cricketing authorities by presenting twisted information which can then be imposed harshly by prejudiced officers of state.
2 responses to “Discriminatory Police Action at MCG: Ben Colby’s Reasoned Protest in Support of Indian Fans”
Great work Michael. The conduct of the Sergeant betrays a latent streak of racial superiority within him. They just cant stomach being browbeaten.
Credit to BEN GOLBY not me. In fact Sanjay Srivastava an Uni-acaademic and cricket buff with roots in Melbourne as eelas New Delhi sent an appreciative note omn Ben’s piece in an email to me