Australia cricketer Khawaja will ‘fight’ to wear Palestine solidarity shoes
Australian cricket player Usman Khawaja has promised to “fight” a ruling by the sport’s governing body that he says has stopped him from displaying messages in support of “those who don’t have a voice”.
In an emotional video posted on his social media, Khawaja clarified that his message was “not political” and that the “bigger problem” was people calling him up to berate him for his stance.
The opening batter was seen wearing cricket boots with “all lives are equal” and “freedom is a human right” written on them in the colours of the Palestinian flag during Australia’s training session prior to their Test series against Pakistan.
The International Cricket Council’s (ICC) rules do not allow players to display “non-compliant” wording or logos on clothing or equipment worn during international matches.
It means that the batter will not be able to wear the boots during Australia’s first Test match against Pakistan, starting on Thursday, December 14.
“I will respect their view and decision, but I will fight it and seek to gain approval,” Khawaja said.
“I’m just speaking up for those who don’t have a voice.”
The ICC has declined Al Jazeera’s request for a comment.
All Lives are Equal. Freedom is a Human right. I'm raising my voice for human rights. For a humanitarian appeal. If you see it any other way. That's on you… pic.twitter.com/8eaPnBfUEb
— Usman Khawaja (@Uz_Khawaja) December 13, 2023
‘I imagine my two girls – what if it were them’
Khawaja said he was speaking up for the thousands of children that are being killed [in Gaza] “without any repercussions or remorse” and that his message was not “political” as seen by the ICC.
At least 7,700 children have been killed in Gaza since the war began in October, according to government and health officials in the besieged strip.
“This is close to my heart,” he said in the video with a quivering voice.
“When I see thousands of children dying without any repercussions or remorse, I imagine my two girls – what if this was them?”
Khawaja has two daughters, Aisha and Ayla, with his Australian-born wife Rachel whom he married in 2018.
“No one chooses where they are born, and then I see the world turning their backs on them, my heart can’t take it,” he went on to say in the video.
The 36-year-old, who was born in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad before moving to Australia as a child. He has often spoken of his experience and the problems he has faced moving through the Australian cricket circuit.
“I already felt my life wasn’t equal to others when I was growing up,” he said.
“But luckily for me, I have never lived in a world where the lack of inequality was life or death.”
Khawaja questions backlash
Khawaja, who has represented Australia in 115 international matches in a 12-year career, said he wanted to ask those people who got offended by his act of solidarity, “Is freedom not for everyone?”
“To me, personally, it doesn’t matter what race, religion or culture you are – but if me saying ‘all lives are equal’ has offended people to the point of – these people obviously don’t believe in what I have written.”
“What I have written is not political, I’m not taking sides. Human life to me is equal. One Muslim life is equal to one Jewish life, is equal to one Hindu life, and so on.”
Despite Khawaja’s revelation about a shocking number of people calling him up to tell him off, he has found support from Australia’s Sport Minister Anika Wells.
“Usman Khawaja is a great athlete and a great Australian,” Anika Wells told local media.
“He should have every right to speak up on matters that are important to him. He has done so in a peaceful and respectful way.”
Meanwhile, Australia captain Pat Cummins said he spoke with Khawaja and confirmed that the batter won’t display the messages despite them “not being divisive.”
“On his shoes he had ‘all lives are equal’. I think that’s not very divisive. I don’t think anyone can really have too many complaints about that,” he told reporters in his pre-match news conference.
“I don’t think his intention is to make too big of a fuss, but we support him,” Cummins said.
‘Political messaging makes regulatory bodies nervous’
Experts believe how the ICC reacts to Khawaja’s appeal will set a precedent for the handling of such issues by sport bodies.
“I think many eyes in the sporting world will look at how this matter is resolved,” Ian Bayley, a senior lecturer in media and public relations at the University of Staffordshire, told Al Jazeera.
When asked if Khawaja had approached them to seek approval to wear the messaging on his boots, the ICC said they had “no comment, nothing has happened.”
“The ICC code of conduct on this issue is quite explicit,” Bayley said.
“But Khawaja’s counter-argument that his messages are not political but are, in fact, humanitarian is an interesting one.
According to the academic, sport has “always offered a strong and powerful platform for political messaging.”
“But it is a fact that, rightly or wrongly, political messaging tends to make regulatory bodies nervous.
“Setting aside the arguments about free speech, it is not surprising that many [sports bodies] have rules in place which effectively limit, or even ban, competitors from displaying political messages.”
Former England cricketer Moeen Ali has also been at the receiving end of the ICC’s warning for showing support for Palestinians.
In the middle of the 2014 war in Gaza, Ali was asked to stop wearing wristbands showing support for Gaza during a Test match against India.
More recently, Pakistan wicketkeeper Muhammad Rizwan dedicated his country’s win against Sri Lanka at the Cricket World Cup in India to the people of Gaza but did not face any sanctions as the comments were made after the match.
Cricket fans and experts have slammed the ICC’s decision and have drawn comparisons when the sport has shown support to other causes in the past.
Cricket writer Ayaz Memon said Khawaja was “brave and right”.
“What’s objectionable in the cause he’s espousing? ICC, which (rightly) supported Black Lives Matter, is being shamefully duplicitous in this instance,” he wrote in a post on X.
We saw top sportspeople show solidarity with BLM, Ukraine, and the LGBTQ community, which was celebrated. And I'm not saying that was wrong. I'm all for it. Why the double standards over here then? Why can Usman Khawaja not wear shoes which say All Lives Matter?
— Behram Qazi 🇵🇰 🇨🇦 (@DeafMango) December 13, 2023