By now, everyone has heard about Ollie Robinson, his dream debut against New Zealand and the nightmare he has faced off it. Subsequently suspended for his old tweets by the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB), people have been strongly vocal in their opinions regarding what should be done.
But what impact does his suspension truly have on the future generations of cricketers coming through? And what is the extent to which he should be punished? After all, he was a teenager when he published those tweets in 2012.
FACTS SO FAR
Robinson’s tweets from 2012 were unearthed just hours after England had marked their first Test of the summer at the Home of Cricket. Sharing a ‘Moment of Unity’ alongside the Kiwis before play, they took a stand against several forms of discrimination.
Since then, Ollie Robinson has apologised for the tweets, taken seven wickets in what can only be described as a dream debut on the pitch, and been suspended for the second test against New Zealand in the aftermath of his tweets resurfacing.
England captain Joe Root in the post-match press conference said that Robinson addressed the dressing room, took responsibility, accepted his mistake and showed genuine remorse.
He further added: “I think it’s a great lesson for everyone within our game that we can all do more. We all have to keep looking to educate ourselves, trying to better the environment for everyone, trying to be as inclusive as we can, keep making everyone feel comfortable to play what a wonderful sport we have.
“We can look back about how this could have been handled better, but the fact is it shouldn’t have happened. And if we continue to keep trying to better the game right now, then in years to come this shouldn’t be an issue and moving forward this shouldn’t be something that happens within cricket.”
Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that the suspension was a bit ‘over the top’ from the ECB.
FINE LINE & IMPACT
So then, is the suspension justified? Yes, but it needs to be handled sensitively.
Young people on social media should realise that their words carry meaning and that what they say online can affect someone else for the rest of their lives. In current times, online abuse is at all all-time high, even prompting footballing legend Thierry Henry to suspend his social media accounts until online racism and hate is dealt with in a more meaningful manner.
If there was no punishment for Robinson’s actions, it would tell future generations that they can hide behind their age to justify racism and sexism. At a time when ECB runs campaigns to make cricket a game for all, it would have sent the wrong message had they not made one of their own contracted players adhere to those standards.
However, it is also true that these tweets were sent out nine years ago, and people change. People can grow, evolve and learn from their mistakes, and if the investigation proves that Robinson has changed for the better, he should be allowed to move on with his career.
There have been calls for Robinson to be given a life ban from playing international cricket. If that happens, it sets a dangerous precedent, suggesting that human beings cannot make mistakes and will be punished irrespective of personal growth.
So where does the balance lie? In my opinion, Robinson must be educated on his responsibilities as a role model within the game and go through sensitivity training. Furthermore, he should be involved in going to schools, leading conversations in ECB’s Dynamos & All Stars programmes in educating young minds of this country about the impact of their words, even at a young age.
Learning from mistakes and growing is an important lesson that needs to be taught and who better to teach it than an England cricketer who has faced the consequences of his actions in the past. As Root touched upon in his press conference, this should not be a situation that should occur in cricket in years to come.
Former West Indies cricketer, Michael Holding, who has won the Sports Journalists’ Association (SJA) Award for Best Pundit in 2020 at the SJA Awards for his powerful testimony about racial injustice in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, has been vocal about the Robinson case and the importance of handling this issue well.
He said to Sky Sports News: “I was a young man once & I did a lot of rubbish as a youngster. As you go through life, you learn and recognise (that) perhaps what I did at 18 does not apply. No, I can’t behave like that.
“So if he (Robinson) does do something like that, nine years ago, and since then he has learned, done nothing like that, and changed his ways within the last two to three years, I don’t think you should come down too hard on him.
“Yes, suspend him because you want to investigate, but do it quickly. Let’s get it over with quickly.”
Hopefully that is the stance the ECB have on this matter and this entire situation is brought to a close soon, with everyone having learnt something from it. If handled well, this can be the catalyst for change in teaching current, as well as the next generation of cricketers, their responsibilities to society on and off the cricket pitch.
At the end of the day, all we can do is hope that the ECB will help turn this incident into a cause for long-term positive change.