England's Joe Root praised for response to alleged homophobia

The England cricket captain Joe Root has been widely hailed for his response to alleged homophobic abuse after retorting that “there is nothing wrong with being gay”.

Root was out in the middle during the third and final Test in Saint Lucia when he had an altercation with the West Indies fast bowler Shannon Gabriel.

Stump microphones did not pick up Gabriel’s initial remarks, but he was spoken to about his language by the umpires at the time.

Root did not elaborate on what was said during the confrontation, suggesting only that the West Indian had said “something he might regret”. However, in footage broadcast on Sky, Root is seen telling Gabriel: “Don’t use it as an insult. There’s nothing wrong with being gay.”

Homosexuality is illegal in Saint Lucia, and those convicted can face a prison sentence of between five and 10 years.

The UK sport minister, Mims Davies, said Root deserved huge praise for immediately calling out the remarks and said his actions should “serve as an example to anyone who sees homophobic abuse” to do the same.

“What a leader, ambassador and huge respect for doing the absolute right thing to properly call this out,” she added. “There is no place for it in sport.”

Her sentiment was shared by the former England hockey captain Kate Richardson-Walsh, who is gay. “This is what being an LGTBQ ally looks like. Thank you Joe Root. This calm and firm response will make a difference in ways we may never see and never know,” she tweeted.

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Meanwhile, Kirsty Clarke, the director of sport for the LGBT charity Stonewall, said Root’s behaviour would help kick discrimination out of sport. “Tackling offensive language is a crucial part of helping LGBT people feel welcome in sport,” she said. “Language is really influential and it’s great Joe Root stepped up to challenge abusive comments.”

Clarke said Stonewall research showed 58% of British people believe it is important for anti-LGBT language to be challenged at live sporting events. “The more players, fans, clubs and organisations that stand up for equality in sport, the sooner we kick discrimination out and make sport everyone’s game,” she added.

The former cricketer Nasser Hussain, who captained England from 1999 to 2003, said Root’s response was more important than his team winning the match. “I don’t know who said what to whom, but boy do I applaud Joe Root’s reaction,” he said. “For me, his 12 words as a role model will be in the end more important than a Test hundred or possible victory.

“Root, as England captain, stood up in the middle of a Test match to what he thought was homophobic abuse and said ‘I’m not having that’. He could have shrugged or laughed it off, but he didn’t. There’s no room for homophobia on or off the cricket pitch, which is why I applaud what Joe Root did.”

Asked about the incident after the end of the third day’s play, Root said what was said on the pitch should stay on it. “It’s Test cricket and [Shannon] is an emotional guy trying to do everything he can to win a Test match,” he said. “Sometimes people say things on the field that they might regret.”

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Asked if Gabriel had crossed the line of acceptability, Root said: “I think it should stay on the field. I don’t want anything said in the middle to ruin what’s been a good Test series for him and his team.”

Cricket’s governing body, the ICC, will wait to see whether the umpires or the match referee lay any charges under its code of conduct that covers “language of a personal, insulting, obscene and/or offensive nature”.

Sarfraz Ahmed, the Pakistan captain, got a four-match ban under the ICC’s anti-racism code last month after stump microphones picked up a remark to South Africa’s Andile Phehlukwayo during a one-day international.



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