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ICC's Action on Moeen Ali's 'Save Gaza' Wristband Is Wrong and Infuriating

England's Moeen Ali gestures to fans to wait as he fields before signing autographs for them on the edge of the boundary during the second day of the third cricket test match of the series between England and India at The Ageas Bowl in Southampton, England, Monday, July 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Matt Dunham/Associated Press
Antoinette MullerFeatured ColumnistJuly 29, 2014

If anyone needed more evidence that the International Cricket Council (ICC) is obsessed with little things, they don't need to look any further than Moeen Ali being barred from wearing specific wristbands.

As per The Guardian, Ali can no longer wear his “Save Gaza” and “Free Palestine” wristbands for the remainder of the third Test against India.

The ICC had the following to say in a statement:

The ICC equipment and clothing regulations do not permit the display of messages that relate to political, religious or racial activities or causes during an international match. Moeen Ali was told by the match referee that while he is free to express his views on such causes away from the cricket field, he is not permitted to wear the wristbands on the field of play and warned not to wear the bands again during an international match.

There is a touch of irony to it all, as usual. On the same day Ali was barred from wearing his wristbands, the whole England team are sporting shirts for the Help For Heroes charity, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I. That is an approved cause (and a good one, it should be noted).

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) had cleared Ali to wear the wristbands, arguing that he was simply making a humanitarian statement, not a political one, as per The Guardian. But the ICC's verdict superseded theirs, and the issue comes back into the spotlight. 

There are two main issues here.

First, the question of how politics and sport intertwine. Many believe that the two areas should steer clear of each other, but time and time again history has shown this is neither possible nor right.

From Andy Flower and his black armband, mourning the "death of democracy in Zimbabwe," to South Africa being exiled from international sport during their apartheid era, sport and politics do mix.

And, often, they play an important role together. The Basil D'Oliveira affair played a crucial part in shining the light on apartheid in South Africa. Players expressing political opinion should not be seen as a bad thing, it gives them an extra dimension. It makes them human, rather than robotic. It can be uncomfortable, but then so can the subject matter. 

But, as the ECB pointed out, Ali's statement was very much a humanitarian statement and, if the team is allowed to wear Hope For Heroes shirts, Ali should have been allowed to wear his wristbands. To me, the ICC's double standards here are infuriating. 

The second issue, as the above tweet points out, is that the ICC does not have its ducks in a row at all. It is prone to clamping down on trivial matters, such as clothing offences. Faf du Plessis was fined 50 percent of his match fee for wearing the wrong shoelaces against Australia earlier this year, as per ESPN Cricinfo. At the same time, David Warner was fined just 15 percent of his match fee for suggesting South Africa were ball tampering. If there is a logic to it, it doesn't seem so clear to the ordinary spectator.

More worryingly, the ICC get very uppity about uniform but have managed to wave through N Srinivasan taking over as chairman of the governing body. This is the same man who has ties with corruption, and has, as per ESPN Cricinfo, been barred from his role as BCCI president due to a Supreme Court of India investigation into IPL corruption.

This points to an ICC with its priorities completely messed up. The insistence on uniformity is one thing but to see so little fuss made over who is in charge of cricket while instant action is taken over wristbands is laughable. 

The rules and regulations around logos for sponsorship is understandable. Big companies pay big money for their rights, but Ali was not brandishing a competitor's logo. He wasn't even wearing it on his shirt. It was a wristband which would not have been noticed had cameras not zoomed in on it. It's a wristband for a charity.  

Cricket isn't the only sport that rules with an iron fist when it comes to political statements and specific clothing.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) also bars all kinds of political speech and has strict rules on sponsors. There are many different reasons for this. From wanting to protect sponsors' real estate to wanting to avoid political propaganda and backlash from the public who might believe that sportsmen should not be allowed to express any sort of opinion. 

Caution is understandable. Politics is, after all, a sensitive topic.

But that is not what is so galling about the whole situation.

It's far more simple than that: Skewed priorities and consistent double standards are far more concerning than a player expressing an opinion. Who will investigate the ICC for that? 

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