It’s just not cricket!1

‘Monkey’ jibe considered racist; ‘donkey’ apparently not


Image Wikipedia, Released under GFDL Harbhajan Singh
Harbhajan Singh

Ah, cricket. A world away from the creation/evolution debate, right?

Actually, on the basis of recent events reported widely in the news media of the world’s cricket-playing nations, I would argue otherwise. And these events have now culminated in the International Cricket Council (ICC), for the first time ever, banning a player for ‘racial abuse’.2

That player is India’s off-spinner Harbhajan Singh. During the just-completed five-day Test Match at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Australia’s captain Ricky Ponting lodged a formal complaint with umpires Steve Bucknor (West Indies) and Mark Benson (England). He reported to them that Harbhajan had called Australia’s all-rounder Andrew Symonds a ‘monkey’.

Symonds ‘is of Caribbean descent’3 and is ‘the only black member of the Australian team’.4

Following the completion of the match, the ICC held ‘a marathon eight-hour hearing’ to consider the issue. Match referee Mike Procter (South Africa) said he was satisfied that Harbhajan had indeed used the word ‘monkey’, and that he had intended to offend Symonds on the basis of his race.

Consequently the ICC has ruled that Harbhajan Singh is guilty of racially abusing Andrew Symonds, and have banned Harbhajan for three Tests—which would mean that he would take no further part in the rest of the current Series against Australia.5

Image Wikipedia Andrew Symonds, declared 'Man of the Match' in the Sydney Test, January 2008. But one of his Indian opponents, Harbhajan Singh, called him a 'monkey'.
Andrew Symonds, declared ‘Man of the Match’ in the Sydney Test, January 2008. But one of his Indian opponents, Harbhajan Singh, called him a ‘monkey’.

‘Racial abuse’—but crucial information is missing!

Despite the widespread media coverage,6 I’ve yet to see any news report or official commentary on exactly why the term ‘monkey’, directed against Symonds, constitutes ‘racial abuse’. And it’s not just in relation to this latest ‘event’—in recent months the media have widely reported similar ‘racial abuse’ instances against Symonds and other ‘black’ participants in international cricket:

  • During the fifth One-Day International match in October 2007 between India and Australia in Vadodara, India, about a dozen spectators taunted Andrew Symonds (when he was fielding on the boundary near them) by making ‘monkey noises and actions’.7,8
  • While playing in the subsequent Twenty20 match between Australia and India in Bombay (Mumbai), Symonds was again ‘subjected to racist taunts and compared to a monkey by some sections of a large and boisterous crowd’. One news reporter noted that ‘some cameras captured the sort of behaviour which sends a chill down the spines of the game’s administrators: fans mimicking a monkey, in reference to Andrew Symond’s Caribbean heritage’.9
  • At Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, Pakistan, during the second Test between South Africa and Pakistan in October 2007, four spectators were arrested for racially abusing South African cricket team members. All-rounder Vernon Philander, assistant coach Vincent Barnes and South African security official Faisul Nagel were walking towards practice nets on the sidelines when they were ‘racially abused with monkey chants’ from a section of the crowd sitting in the Imran Khan stand.10,11 The International Herald Tribune pointed out one distinguishing characteristic pertaining to the three South Africans (Philander, Barnes and Nagel): ‘All three men are black.’12

It seems I’m not the only person to have noticed that the news reports, and official commentary, have not provided the crucial information as to why ‘monkey’ taunts directed at people with dark-coloured skin should be considered racist. Here are three extracts of postings from various blogs on the issue:

  1. ‘I’m confused as to how “monkey” constitutes racial abuse. If I heard someone called a monkey, I would most likely understand that to mean that they are a bit stupid, can’t control their impulses, loud or troublesome [or some combination of the above]. Does anyone know why exactly this was judged to be a racial slur?’13
  2. ‘I think the Press have made a common word into a racism word now. Can someone explain [to] me why call[ing] Michael Clarke as “Pup” is not racism but calling Symonds “Monkey” is? Both refer to animals. So in that case no one should call Clarke as “Pup”. … Even Ian Botham was referred to as “Pig” but no one said that was racism. I think we really are making a hill out of a mole [sic] or the press is definitely making it.’ 13
  3. ‘Can somebody please tell me why it was only Symonds who was targeted by the Indian audience? Why nobody else was? Also, why was he made fun of as monkey and not something else? I think this is an important side of story that is getting missed out. … I am definitely against racism, be it towards black or white. However, can anybody just explain, how, if somebody is called a “monkey”, it refers to racism? … I have utmost respect for Australia team, but you can’t just pass anything under the label of “racism”. Does it mean that calling someone dog, donkey, etc is also racism?’14

Interestingly, that last question from blog-poster #3 is very similar to one put to an Australian cricket official by a radio talk-show host in October last year, after Andrew Symonds was subjected to ‘monkey’ taunts in Vadodara and Mumbai. The talk-show host, Madonna King,15 asked the cricket official why is it that the word ‘monkey’, directed at a black player, is racist, but the word ‘donkey’ is apparently okay to use? The cricket official hedged, then replied by intimating that ‘all sledging is bad’—thus dodging the crux of the question about ‘monkey’ vs ‘donkey’ completely, and Madonna King did not pursue that question further.

But today’s bloggers apparently have no such qualms, and the ‘missing information’ that officials and news outlets have not published has been spelled out by some of the more knowledgeable blog-posters, e.g.:

  1. ‘“Monkey” is a very old racial slur that suggests that someone is sub-human.’ 13
  2. ‘[I]f I was to taunt someone who was black and say they were a monkey to suggest that they were sub human, considering that according to the evolution path many believe that monkeys are human ancestors, then this is considered a racial taunt.’ 13
  3. ‘The monkey slur is used against ANYONE of dark skin colouration … to infer that they have not yet evolved beyond the ape stage.’13
  4. ‘THE BLACK people of African origin are sometimes sensitive to being called MONKEY because the ANGLOSAXON WHITES have used the term MONKEY as a term to PUT down AFRICAN-ORIGIN people using Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.’ 13
  5. ‘If anyone thinks monkey is not a racist taunt, you should watch soccer matches in Eastern Europe and (on occasion) Spain and Italy, where fans make monkey noises and throw bananas when black players touch the ball. You may think differently then.’ 13

Exactly right. Blog-poster #E’s comment goes to the heart of our recent article in Creation magazine: ‘Do monkeys play football?’ Here’s an extract from that article:

Image Wikipedia Darwin as a monkey

Making a monkey out of people—racist or funny?

It’s not just black people who are the victims of ‘monkey’ taunts. Even US President George Bush has been likened to a chimpanzee.16,17 And magazine cartoonists in the 1800s lampooned Charles Darwin by drawing him as an ape.18

Although mocking of these notable public figures in such a way is considered humorous or disrespectful (depending on the leanings of the viewer), I’ve never heard it described as ‘racist’. And herein lies the key—when white people are likened to monkeys and apes, it’s not racist, but to equate black people with monkeys and apes is racist.

To discover why, we can look to Darwin himself. Because it was his ideas that led to him being mockingly drawn as an ape—it seems he was the first man ever to be thus portrayed—and it is his ideas which fuel ‘monkey’ jibes towards black people today, and explain why such jibes are considered ‘racist’.

Monkeys black, humans white

When Darwin popularized the theory of evolution, he clearly suggested that some people are ‘more evolved’ than others. In that context, it was easy for people of European ancestry to forget that western achievements in science, literature, music, government institutions, etc., arose in large part out of the energising freedom, mutual trust, and call-to-fruitfulness ideals provided by a biblical worldview. Instead, many people of British and European ancestry imagined that their ‘evolutionarily advanced’ societies reflected their superiority over other ‘races’—especially black ‘races’.

Image Wikipedia Darwin as an ape

Thus the beguiling popular drawings showing an evolutionary transition from dark monkey/ape to white human became increasingly the popular perception/view. So today, because evolution is presumed to be true, making monkey noises at a black person is construed as ‘racist’, i.e. demeaning black people relative to whites.

In other words, when the media reports that monkey innuendoes are racist, they’re accepting a deep-seated evolutionary worldview that some people groups are less evolved than others—specifically, blacks are less evolved than whites. Of course they don’t dare put it so bluntly—it’s simply assumed. And now the authorities are trying to stamp out such innuendoes.19 This is a classic example of society reaping the consequences (e.g. racism) of what it has sown (evolutionary teaching). Many in authority, it seems, have accepted (if not overtly promoted) the teaching of an evolutionary worldview, yet are unwilling to accept its consequences.

[End of extract from Creation magazine 29(3):12–14, June-August 2007—and now accessible online in our archive here.]

As our Creation magazine article went on to point out, the only effective solution to ending racism in cricket, and elsewhere in society, is to return to a biblical worldview. Man, made in the image of God, is no monkey. It was not a monkey who made 162 not out in the first innings, 61 in the second innings, and who took 3 wickets in last weekend’s Sydney Test, and who was declared ‘Man of the Match’ at the end of the game. No, it was a man, named Andrew Symonds.

Go, ‘Roy’!20


  1. The expression, ‘It’s just not cricket’, is used in many cricket-playing nations to describe actions that are seen as unfair, ‘unsporting’, or when some injustice has occurred. It derives from the fact that the game of cricket, when played by ‘gentlemen’ according to the spirit of the rules, was for many years considered to epitomize fairness and ‘decent’ behaviour. Return to Text.
  2. ABC News, Harbhajan banned over Symonds abuse, <www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/01/07/2132696.htm>, 7 January 2008. Return to Text.
  3. Caldwell, A., Harbhajan ban ignites Test storm, ABC News, <www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/01/07/2132853.htm>, 7 January 2008. Return to Text.
  4. ABC News, India to protest over SCG umpiring, <www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/01/06/2132665.htm?section+sport>, 7 January 2008. Return to Text.
  5. However, India has indicated that it will lodge an appeal against the decision. Return to Text.
  6. According to the Ref. 3 news report by Alison Caldwell, ‘India’s media is providing wall-to-wall coverage of the ICC’s decision.’ Return to Text.
  7. ABC News, Symonds drew inspiration from racial abuse, <www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2007/10/15/2059291.htm>, pub. 15 October 2007. Return to Text.
  8. The Times Online, Harbhajan Singh faces Test ban for ‘racist slur’, <www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/cricket/article3134191.ece>, 5 January 2008. Return to Text.
  9. Santow, S., Racist crowds mar international cricket, ABC News, <www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2007/10/18/2063394.htm>, pub. 18 October 2007. Return to Text.
  10. ABC News, Racist abuse hurled at South Africans, <www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2007/10/13/2058674.htm>, pub. 13 October 2007. Return to Text.
  11. Cricinfo staff, Pakistan fans arrested for racial abuse, <www.pakstop.com/pmforums/showthread.php?t=57164>, 12 October 2007. Return to Text.
  12. International Herald Tribune, Four Pakistani fans arrested for racially abusing South African cricket team, <www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/10/12/sports/AS-SPT-CRK-Pakistan-South-Africa-Abuse.php>, pub. 12 October 2007. Return to Text.
  13. From a posting on: ABC News, Harbhajan banned over Symonds abuse—Readers’ Comments; <www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/01/07/2132696.htm>, 8 January 2008. Return to Text.
  14. From a posting on: PerthNow (Powered by The Sunday Times), Crowd turns on Symonds—Readers’ Comments; <www.news.com.au/perthnow/comments/0,21590,22606859-5005401,00.html>; acc. 25 October 2007. Return to Text.
  15. Mornings with Madonna King, 612 ABC Brisbane, <abc.net.au/brisbane/mornings/default.htm>, acc. 29 October 2007. Return to Text.
  16. George W. Bush or Chimpanzee?, <www.bushorchimp.com/>, 17 May 2005. Return to Text.
  17. Political Humor, <politicalhumor.about.com/library/images/blbushchimplookalikes.htm>, 17 May 2005. Return to Text.
  18. Browne, J., Darwin in Caricature: A Study in the Popularisation and Dissemination of Evolution, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 145(4):496–509, 2001. Return to Text.
  19. United Nations General Assembly, 58th session, Item 117(a)—Elimination of racism and racial discrimination, <www.hri.ca/fortherecord2003/documentation/genassembly/a-58-313.htm>, 5 May 2006. Return to Text.
  20. ‘Roy’ is an affectionate nickname for Andrew Symonds, much loved by Aussie cricket fans. Return to Text.

Published: 8 January 2008