The Australia men’s team plans to form a Barefoot Circle in acknowledgement of Aboriginal Australia before every series it plays, starting with the ODI matches against India later this month, as the vice-captain Pat Cummins conceded the nation’s highest-profile international sporting team had fallen behind in its recognition and education around racial injustice.
Stopping short of adopting the globally recognised symbol of taking a knee before a match, the Barefoot Circle is a statement taken up by Australian cricket more broadly to connect with Aboriginal culture and the land on which matches are played, and has already been adopted by the national women’s team, WBBL clubs and, more recently, the state teams in the Sheffield Shield last week.
Cummins said that while individual players would be free to make their own statements, including taking a knee, the Barefoot Circle had been deemed the best way for the team to begin to acknowledge that in addressing racism, both at home and around the world, they have a fair amount of work to do.
“We’ve decided to do the Barefoot Circle. We’re going to look at doing it at the start of each series and it’s a pretty easy decision for us. As soon as you try and learn a little bit about it, it just becomes a really easy decision. Not only as a sport, but we as people are absolutely against racism,” Cummins said. “We can probably put our hands up and say we haven’t done enough in the past and we want to get better, so this is one small thing we’re going to introduce this summer.
“In addition, we’re going to try and do a lot of work on our education, we’re going to try and learn as much about our history here in Australia in particular moving forward, and look forward to doing the Barefoot Circle. I thought NAIDOC week last week in the Sheffield Shield was quite a powerful opening day, and in the WBBL seeing lots of great acts there as well.”
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Asked why the team, in discussions featuring the national coach Justin Langer and the ODI and T20I captain Aaron Finch, stopped short of deciding to take a knee as England and the West Indies had done earlier this year, Cummins said there was a strong desire to specifically recognise Aboriginal Australia and cricket’s need to redress a lot of poor emphasis on history.
“I think the most obvious one was in Australia; we think the most marginalised group is the First Nations people and Indigenous peoples, and we think the Barefoot Circle’s a great way to celebrate them,” Cummins said. “Some people might want to take the knee, some people might want to show it in different ways, and absolutely we’re all for that, but we’ve come together as a team and think this is the best way we can demonstrate anti-racism as well as celebrating Indigenous culture here.
“It’s something we spoke about, empowering anyone to make a certain demonstration, whether it’s taking a knee or whatever it is, we’ll 100% support them in that. I think it all boils down to the idea racism exists and we want to do our bit to help stop that and try to be better. I think everyone will do it in their own little way internally, but what we’ve spoken about is everyone’s absolutely on board with the Barefoot Circle and I’m not sure anyone will take it any further than that.”
Ian Chappell, the former Australian captain and commentator, said that in his view the decision to take a knee needed to be made individually, with the onus on the team to ensure that no player would be adversely judged in selection or other terms if they chose to make a strong statement to the world this summer.
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“My personal view is that if I was playing now, I would be doing something, whether it is taking a knee or not, I’d be letting it be known that things need to improve,” Chappell told ESPNcricinfo. “As a captain, I think it’s very much an individual thing and I’d call the team together and say ‘Okay, what do you guys want to do’ and if it was all ‘we’ll take a knee’ then fine, we’re all taking a knee. But if it was some do want to and some don’t, I’d be saying, ‘well alright, you do what you feel you have to do and it’s an individual decision, but you won’t cop any flak for that decision’.
“If I was taking that route, before I made it public, I would be dealing with the Board and saying ‘look, this is the situation, some players are going to take a knee and others aren’t, and I don’t want anybody to be punished for taking a knee – if that’s going to happen then there’ll be a problem’. I think that’s really important, because you don’t want guys suddenly disappearing out of the team because they’re taking a stand.”
Chappell believes that Australian cricket needs to be more open to acknowledging that too many potential followers of the game do not see cricket as a sport for them because the top tier of the game fails far too often to reflect the diversity of the nation represented by the national team.
“It’s only in very recent times that much has been done to try to attract Aboriginals to the game,” he said. “I don’t think Australia took that opportunity until recently, but there have since been genuine attempts to improve that situation. It’s a very diverse country and there’s no doubt that cricket doesn’t reflect that diversity yet.
“If you’re going to totally rely on the Anglo heritage you’re going to be in trouble down the track. I think that’s really the first step. The kids going to the cricket have got to look out on the field and see diversity on the field. Thanks to the BBL and the WBBL they are seeing more, because overseas players are coming in. But I think that’s an important part of the process.”
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