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PCB chief questions why ICC punished Sarfraz despite reconciliation over racist remarks

Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Chairman Ehsan Mani on Friday said that in the punishment given to captain Sarfaraz Ahmed by the International Cricket Council (ICC) for allegedly racist remarks made against South African cricketer Andile Phehlukwayo, bureaucracy seems to have won against common sense.

“As far as we were concerned, an apology had been tendered and accepted and the only question was whether Sarfaraz deserved any punishment,” Mani said, while speaking to ESPNcricinfo.

“I had already said we should pull Sarfaraz out for 2-3 games. I felt very strongly that this has to be a strong message for everyone.”

In the second ODI played between Pakistan and South Africa, Sarfraz was heard making controversial remarks directed at Phehlukwayo.

As South African batsman Andile Phehlukwayo got lucky despite playing a risky shot, a stump mic picked up Ahmed saying: “Hey black [man], where is your mother sitting? What prayer did you get her to say for you today?” (Abay kaalay, teri ammi aaj kahan baitheen hain? Kya parhwa ke aya hai aaj tu?)

Following backlash, the skipper apologised to the South African team, and personally expressed regret over the incident to Phehlukwayo, who accepted his apology.

The skipper was then handed a four-match suspension by the ICC on Jan 27 for breaching its Anti-Racism Code. Soon after the announcement by the council, PCB released a statement, saying it was “disappointed with ICC’s decision”.

“The PCB notes the ICC decision on Sarfaraz Ahmed with its utmost disappointment. PCB had anticipated that the matter had been resolved amicably between the two players and the two boards following Sarfaraz Ahmed’s public apologies which were accepted by the player, the Board and South Africa cricket team,” the statement by the board had said.

Speaking to ESPNcricinfo, Mani maintained that the punishment was unjustified. “We had cleared the air. So common sense should have meant that was the end of the matter,” he said.

He added: “We made an apology at all levels and it had been accepted by everyone. We have a good relationship with CSA. For the ICC to jump in because Phehlukwayo was upset and didn’t want a reconciliation process, [and to feel they] have to charge Sarfaraz, that’s where I think a bit of nonsense comes into this. What else can you achieve by sitting them in a room? They’re not school children.”

“Why this bureaucratic process that it didn’t go exactly according to the book in terms of reconciliation with an ICC mediator? We don’t need an ICC mediator,” Mani maintained while adding that the punishment has been given because at some point during the whole episode, the bureaucratic process “overruled common sense”.

Speaking about Sarfaraz’s comment itself, Mani said: “Unfortunately, somewhere the message to the players has gotten missed, or it hasn’t sunk in, or too much time went by without further refreshing. It is a distasteful comment to make at any level.

“The sensitivity in South Africa is understandably very high and it was disappointing the captain made that comment – it would be disappointing coming from any player but the leader of the team more so.”

“Obviously Sarfaraz will be spoken to. The whole team will be told that you have to be very careful. It is also a bit of a cultural issue – the word that he used, in Pakistan it would be ignored. That doesn’t mean the culture is right but the tone wasn’t in any way vicious or vindictive,” Mani said, clarifying that Sarfaraz’s comment will not be taken lightly and that steps will be taken to make sure such instances do not occur in the future.

ICC’s punishment criteria

The ICC’s Anti-Racism Code for Participants states that the following conduct, if committed by a participant at any time during, or in relation to, an international match, shall amount to an offence: “Engaging in any conduct (whether through the use of language, gestures or otherwise), which is likely to offend, insult, humiliate, intimidate, threaten, disparage or vilify any reasonable person in the position of a player, player support personnel, umpire, match referee, umpire support personnel or any other person (including a spectator) on the basis of their race, religion, culture, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin”.

As per Article 7.3 of the Anti-Racism Code, Ahmed will have to undergo an education programme to promote the understanding and awareness of issues directly relevant to the offence that he has committed, the ICC said in a press release, adding that it would “work with the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) to determine when and how this should take place”.

The incident was initially reported by Ranjan Madugalle of the Emirates Elite Panel of ICC Match Referees after he conducted initial investigations and spoke to both players after the match.

Following a further investigation, the ICC General Counsel Iain Higgins then determined that the player had a case to answer under the Code, and the player was issued with a charge notice on January 26.

ICC Chief Executive David Richardson had said: “The ICC has a zero-tolerance policy towards conduct of this nature. Ahmed has promptly admitted the offence, was regretful of his actions and has issued a public apology, so these factors were taken into account when determining an appropriate sanction.”

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