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Joe Root, England’s captain, has been praised by Stonewall, the UK equality charity, after appearing to challenge a discriminatory remark from Shannon Gabriel, the West Indies fast bowler, during the St Lucia Test*.
Stump mics caught an interaction on the third afternoon of the Test between Gabriel and two England batsmen, Root and Joe Denly, which ended with Root saying: “Don’t use it as an insult. There’s nothing wrong with being gay.”
Although the mics did not catch Gabriel’s earlier comments, it is understood the umpires spoke to him about them at the time. They have not, at this stage, taken any further action.
Kirsty Clarke, director of sport at Stonewall, told Press Association Sport: “Language is really influential and it’s great if Joe Root was willing to challenge potentially abusive comments.
“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.
“Stonewall research shows more than half of British people (58 per cent) believe it’s important anti-LGBT language is challenged at live sporting events.”
Root was reluctant to draw attention to Gabriel’s remarks once play had finished. He seemed to accept the fast bowler may have said something inappropriate, but was not understood to have reported it to officials and suggested such exchanges should stay on the field.
“Sometimes people say things on the field that they might regret, but they should stay on the field,” Root said.
“It’s Test cricket and he’s an emotional guy trying to do everything he can to win a Test match. He’s a good guy who plays hard cricket and is proud to be in the position he is. The battle was a good contest, he’s had a wonderful series and he should be proud.”
Nasser Hussain, the former England captain, said that Root’s actions had been hugely significant. “I don’t know who said what to whom…but boy do I applaud Joe Root’s reaction here,” Hussain wrote on Twitter. “For me his twelve words as a role model will be in the end more important than a test hundred or possible victory.”
Richard Pybus, West Indies’ interim coach, said he was not aware of the comments but suggested that, if they were deemed “untoward”, it would be addressed.
“Nothing has been reported to me,” he said. “But if a comment was made, we’ll review it. And, if it was untoward, we’ll be addressing it.”
The incident may speak of a culture clash as much as anything. Radio stations in some parts of the Caribbean regularly play music with lyrics that would be viewed as homophobic and unacceptable in the UK – or many other places – while some homosexual acts remain illegal across much of the region.
Article 2.13 of the ICC’s code of conduct applies to use of “language of a personal, insulting, obscene and/or offensive nature”, with a range of charges covering different levels of seriousness.
*February 12, 2.50pm GMT – This story was updated with Stonewall’s response