The ugly reality of racism in Ireland: Ace cricketer Narasimha Rao lifts the veil

Abhijit Sen Gupta
Abhijit Sen Gupta

Hyderabad: The ugly issue of racism has rocked international cricket in the last few days.

It all began when England’s Ollie Robinson was suspended for racial tweets that he had made many years ago. The England and Wales Cricket Board launched an investigation and removed Robinson from the England squad. But the matter did not end there. Other skeletons came tumbling out of the cupboard. Now players like Eoin Morgan, Jos Buttler and Brendon McCullum are also facing the heat for racist comments they had made earlier.

In India where cricketers are treated like Gods, the fans are furious. They want all the guilty players to be punished severely. But what is surprising is the silence of India’s cricket stars who are the heroes of modern cricket. Only Farokh Engineer, the former wicket keeper, has come out with scathing comments in an interview recently.

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But today siasat.com spoke with former Hyderabad captain M.V.Narasimha Rao on the controversial subject.  He revealed the extent of racial bullying and hatred that exists in the UK especially in Ireland. Better known as Bobby Rao, he has played and coached in Northern Ireland for about 30 years. In a hard hitting interview with siasat.com from Strabane, Northern Ireland, where he now lives, the Hyderabadi expressed his deep anguish about the attacks that he had to face and overcome.

“I had a very difficult time when I first came to play in England and then Ireland. I did a lot for Irish cricket and the community development in my region. I coached their players and nine of my trainees represented Ireland in the World Cup. I coached Eoin Morgan when he was young. Now his name has come up in this controversy. It is difficult to have faith in anybody,” he said.

“Despite my contributions to Irish cricket, in the course of my work and my game, I regularly heard comments about my colour. On one occasion I lost my job at the mill I was working for. It is not that everyone is racist. Perhaps 95 percent are not. But the 5 percent who are, can make your life hell,” said Rao.

“Even though my wife was Irish, I was not spared. On occasions the haters sent abusive letters to me. When I campaigned against racism and when I tried to make progress at work and community service, they wrote on the walls: “Black Bob, Go Home.” My garden was vandalised. It was a very depressing time. And what is frustrating is that there is no law against it. I cannot go to court. I know that I will never get justice. Later I became friends with John Hume who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998. We tried to get the Racial Equality Bill passed in the Irish parliament but we had no success,” said Rao.

“So there is no law here to protect you against racial abuse. Racism can be practised in different ways. There is a subtle way of doing it. That is how educated people do it.  For example they may block your way forward. They may block your promotion. They may deny you a job. The post will go to a less qualified person than you just because the colour of his skin.”

“On one occasion I was nominated as the selector from the North West region for the Irish cricket team. Like in India we have selectors representing each of our zones, in Ireland too, the system is the same. I was nominated by 18 out of the 23 clubs to be the zonal selector. But when the team was being selected, I was kept away from attending. The Irish Cricket Board was responsible for this. And don’t forget, the Irish board is funded by the ICC,” said Rao.

“On another occasion I was giving a speech at a function. After I had finished and was walking off, one person told me – It is good that you have come from India and have learnt English so that today you gave a speech. I told him that in India we learn English from the time we are 3 years old. And that India has more English speaking people than the entire population of Ireland.”

“So they all talk about racial equality but they do not practice it. I can quote the example of another Indian player from Karnataka whose name I won’t reveal because he is still playing. He was hounded so badly that he began suffering from depression. He went to court but didn’t get justice. It is all very heartbreaking. He told me later that had I not been there to support him during this crisis, he would have committed suicide,” said Rao.

“Besides coaching, I have also done a lot of community service to bring about racial unity. I was honoured with an MBE award by the UK government. I am involved with the ALLtogether-NoW campaign which is designed to challenge racism and celebrate the multi-cultural heritage of this region of Ireland. People from 25 countries live in this area. We strive to provide equal rights to all of them,” said Rao who has served as the Chairperson of the Northern Ireland Ethnic Minorities Association.

“But look at what we are doing in India. We are encouraging foreign coaches to take up assignments in India. Do they do the same for us? Do we see Rahul Dravid or Anil Kumble being invited for coaching in the UK or Australia or South Africa? Why do our IPL teams call foreign coaches and players? They go to India just to make money. They do not have any intention of improving Indian cricket. As long as they are being paid huge amounts, they will hide their racism in their minds, make the money and go away,” concluded Bobby Rao.

Abhijit Sen Gupta is a seasoned journalist who writes on Sports and various other subjects.

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