Khawaja speaks out after ICC censure over armband

Khawaja explains his Gaza protest

Source: Instagram/Usman Khawaja

Australian batter Usman Khawaja has spoken out after being reprimanded by cricket officials for sporting a black armband in the opening Test against Pakistan in Perth.

Khawaja had the messages “Freedom is a human right” and “All lives are equal” on his boots in the colours of the Palestinian flag during training before the opening Test of the three-match series last week, which the hosts won by 360 runs in Perth.

There were multiple reports the Pakistan-born opener had intended to wear the boots in the game. But he was unable to do so under International Cricket Council regulations that prohibit messages related to political, religious or racial activities or causes.

He instead wore a black armband. Late on Thursday, the ICC said he had breached its clothing and equipment regulations.

“Usman displayed a personal message (armband) during the first Test match against Pakistan without seeking the prior approval of Cricket Australia and the ICC to display it, as required in the regulations for personal messages,” a spokesperson said.

“This is a breach under the category of an ‘other breach’ and the sanction for a first offence is a reprimand.”

On Friday, Khawaja, who scored 41 and 90 in the first Test, said the armband was to recognise a personal bereavement.

“They (ICC) asked me on day two what it (black armband) was for and told them it was for a personal bereavement,” Khawaja said during a short media conference at the MCG, where he will suit up for Australia in next week’s Boxing Day Test.

“I never ever stated it was for anything else.

“The shoes were a different matter, I’m happy to say that.

“The armband makes no sense to me.”

Khawaja said repeatedly that he respected the ICC’s decision, but he wanted the governing body to be consistent.

“There have been plenty of people who have not had permission to wear stuff in the past. For me, I was very clear and open. The armband is what I’m being reprimanded for, so I will deal with that with the ICC,” he said.

There was public support for Khawaja from teammate Travis Head late on Thursday.

“Stay strong!” he tweeted.

“Freedom is a human right. All lives are equal.”

Ahead of the Perth Test, Khawaja said he believed the statements on his shoes in support of the people of Gaza were not political and vowed to fight the ICC.

In a video on social media, he said: “What I’ve written on my shoes is not political. I’m not taking sides.

“Human life to me is equal. One Jewish life is equal to one Muslim life is equal to one Hindu life and so on. I’m just speaking up for those who don’t have a voice.”

“The ICC have told me I can’t wear my shoes on the field because they feel it’s a political statement under their guidelines. I don’t believe it’s so. It’s a humanitarian appeal. I will respect their view and decision. But I will fight it and seek to gain approval.”

He repeated that view in Melbourne on Friday.

“I don’t have any agendas, only to try to shine a light on what I feel passionately, really strongly about. I’m trying to do it in the most respectful way possible,” he said.

“With wearing my shoes, I thought about it for a while what I was going to write. I wanted to make sure I didn’t segregate different parts of the population – religion, community. I have kept religion out of this. I’m talking about humanitarian issues … That is literally the crux of it.”

Khawaja said he had been particularly affected by social media coverage from war-torn Gaza.

“I’m seeing kids, innocent kids, videos of them dying, passing away  – that’s what has hit me the hardest. I just imagine my young daughter in my arms doing the same thing. I get emotional about it,” he said.

“I feel like it’s my responsibility to speak up on this. We live in such a beautiful country. I’m blessed to be able to live in Australia. I walk outside, don’t have to worry about a thing. My kids can do the same. I just want that for the rest of the world.”

England allrounder Moeen Ali, who like Khawaja is a Muslim with Pakistani heritage, was banned by the ICC in 2014 from wearing wristbands featuring the slogans “Save Gaza” and “Free Palestine”.

But the ICC did allow players to “take the knee” before international matches in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 and 2021.

-with AAP

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