While scrolling through Ishant Sharma’s Instagram feed to confirm if he had indeed posted about Darren Sammy what screenshots shared on Twitter seemed to indicate (he indeed had), there was another post that was impossible to miss.

First, the now widely-circulated post on May 14, 2014, (a photo of Ishant Sharma with Sunrisers Hyderabad teammates Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Darren Sammy and Dale Steyn) reads: “Me, bhuvi, k***u and gun sunrisers.”

Before that, another post with a photo of Ishant and Sammy on April 19, 2014, with the caption: “One of the best human being (sic) and my close friend of sunrisers!! Darren Sammy.”

The contrast is striking. A senior, well-travelled Indian cricketer, showing his admiration for an international colleague, but soon after, uploading a photo with a nickname that has undeniable racist undertones.

Most likely, Ishant might not have intended malice while he used the term. (It remains to be seen what the response from the Indian cricketer or any of Sammy’s teammates from then is). But the pacer’s post undoubtedly sets a wrong example to his fans (most of his million followers on Instagram could have seen it by now).

And what is abundantly clear is this: Indian cricketers (and perhaps, athletes in general) are in need of an education that extends beyond coaching skills. There is an evident lack of awareness that comes with living in a bubble.

Not an isolated incident

It is important not to view this latest development as an isolated incident. During a live chat with his former India and Mumbai Indians teammate Rohit Sharma in April, Yuvraj Singh had made a casual remark when Kuldeep Yadav came online: “Yeh b***gi log ko kaam nahi hai yeh Yuzi aur isko (Kuldeep). Yuzi ko dekha kya video daala hai apni family ke saath.” (These b***gi people do not have any work to do. Did you see the video Yuzi put with his family?)

After criticism, Yuvraj’s response was what one would call a classic non-apology. Starting off by saying he would never differentiate anyone on caste (while his remark clearly indicated otherwise as an immediate proof), the former India all-rounder lived up to that term by going round and round in circles before expressing regret *if* some were offended by it:

“I understand that while I was having a conversation with my friends, I was misunderstood, which was unwarranted. However, as a responsible Indian I want to say that if I have unintentionally hurt anybody’s sentiments or feelings, I would like to express regret for the same.”    

— Yuvraj Singh on Twitter over criticism for casteist remark

Acceptance of the problem

The biggest problem with that framed statement is that it indicated that Yuvraj did not actually see what the issue with his passing remark was. If he did, the apology would have been more direct. This article will be updated if and when Ishant responds to the events of Tuesday.

With the admitted risk of generalisation, it would not be an exaggeration to say casual racism or casteism is commonplace in Indian households. Reporters have also spoken on social media about how it is not uncommon to hear such slurs from the stands during a cricket match. Indeed, one of the responses to the aforementioned post by Ishant is: “K***u ko k***u nahin bole toh kya safed bole?” And then there are others on Twitter telling Sammy how he should feel, instead of looking at the real issue. Maybe that shocks you, or maybe that is exactly what you expect.

Which is why the sportspersons should be held to higher standards when it comes to uttering casual remarks. There are thousands who can learn the wrong thing from their idols.

Need for sensitivity training

Sensitivity training is desperately needed as it was also evident when the Hardik Pandya, KL Rahul incident happened because of their appearance on Koffee with Karan. While the Committee of Administrators blew the incident out of proportions, the most important revelation of that episode was that cricketers needed to be mentored on a variety of social and cultural topics.

That has only been reiterated by the incidents of the last few weeks.

It is also worth noting that educating cricketers is not just to avoid uttering racial slurs but to also be aware of situations where they could be at the receiving end too. The tables might as well turn and they need to be aware of what the correct response is in such a situation. It goes both ways.

Also read: Holding talks about racism in sport and the Amy Cooper incident in New York

But make no mistake, the solution to the issue is not to slam Ishant or Yuvraj. While the IPL franchise or BCCI could impose financial sanctions, that wouldn’t suffice either. Such actions might work in the short term but as West Indies legend Michael Holding said, it will be a “plaster on the sore”.

“Fine, sports can have their rules and regulations under which you enter the ground, that’s just a plaster on the sore. The people in the society have got to understand that it is unacceptable, and when you tackle it in the society itself, it will not spill over in sport,” Holding had said.

And while talking about the Amy Cooper incident in New York that went viral recently, Holding also made a crucial point: the white woman genuinely believed she was doing the right thing by calling the police on an African-American man because that was the first thought that went into her head.

It is such deep-rooted non-understanding of issues that needs to be tackled in sport, as in society, more than a slap on the wrist. A casual non-apology or a hefty fine will not fix anything. Accepting there is a problem is the first, and arguably, the most important step.

And with cricketers (Indian, at least) not likely to return to action anytime soon, the BCCI has the global weapon of choice during this pandemic in their hands to unleash some knowledge on them: maybe have a webinar or two?

Indeed, there has never been a better time to confront such issues in sport and begin conversations that would help in changing things for the generation to follow. No one is perfect, but there is no better time to own up and understand what needs to be corrected.