Friday, 17 August 2012

Kevin Pietersen, Racism and Benefit Claimants: more in common than one may think

For those of you who are not aware who Kevin Pietersen (a.k.a. KP) is, he is a world class, South African born, cricketer who has played for England since 2005, and he briefly captained the national side between 2008 and 2009. Recently however he has fallen foul of a hoax Twitter account, which poked fun at his rather large ego, and his employers and team-mates in the England dressing room. This ‘falling out’ is predominantly for the alleged sending of derogatory text messages about some of these team-mates to their current opposition: South Africa. Consequently, he has been dropped for the final Test of the current series at Lord’s.

The Pietersen affair  has highlighted a number of things: The persistent incompetence, or what the ex-West Indian international Michael Holding called 'amateurism', of the game’s administration; The negative affects that the publishing boom in half-baked sporting biographies and social media have in an era of player power; And the implicit racism in certain sections of the British press.

Clearly, as cricket is not an Olympic sport, the positive image of multiculturalism displayed during the opening and closing ceremonies, and within Team GB, does not apply to journalists writing for some of our newspapers. As I have discussed previously regarding the 'Woygate' affair, some of the British media introduce morally dubious sub-plots into what, at face value, look like straightforward ‘news’ stories. The Pietersen affair has brought an all too brief ‘amnesty’ in negative stories, which was replaced by the equally unpalatable boosterism of Team GB’s Olympic success, to an end. Such sub-plots have once again taken centre stage.

Two articles specific to the affair have questioned whether Pietersen, as a South African born cricketer, was ever really suitable, in cultural terms, for the England cricket team? ‘Suitable’ is an interesting implication, for it implies that cultural or racial differences trump ‘eligibility’ – a far more, if you’ll excuse the term, ‘black and white’ issue.

Peter Oborne writing in The Telegraph stated:  ‘Pietersen is the latest white South African to use his selection for the England cricket team to promote his personal ambitions’. He continued: ‘Nationality is not just a matter of convenience. It is a matter of identity. Kevin Pietersen may have chosen to come to Britain. But his attitudes and his cast of mind were formed in South Africa. Ultimately, Pietersen has not much idea of what it means to be British’.

Regardless of what it ‘means’ to be British, this nation’s sport has a long history of sportsmen and women from other countries representing us. These range from the Indian Prince Ranjitsinhji playing cricket for England in the 1890s, the South African born runner Zola Budd in the 1980s, and numerous contemporary examples. While all are deemed acceptable when scoring centuries or winning gold medals, if this stops, or the individual becomes problematic, the journalistic gloves come off. But this is not an issue unique to sport and race, for our whole society is subjected to such judgements.

Comments such as these reveal the nature of certain newspapers and political parties, who define a person’s worthiness, acceptability, or status by their success. Racial issues apart, all is well if a member of our society is a ‘winner’, or thought to be doing noble deeds (such as serving in the Army), but woe betide that member or sections of our society should they be deemed a ‘loser’. Pietersen probably doesn’t realise it, but he has much in common with this country’s benefit claimants right now. 


  1. Good to see fellow sport historians taking to blogging. I'll add you to my blog roll. Christoph

  2. Cheers Christoph. :-) No time to blog recently though. :-(