Sometimes sport can seem to foster divisiveness as in the bad old days of heavily Euro-jingoist soccer clubs like Croatia, but it equally often is a growing point of integration and harmony. It can also be a site for improving the ordinary person’s perceptions and sensitivities, the recent stand against racism taken by Rugby League’s Timana Tahu, whom I greatly admire, being a case in point.
Today we learn that Australian cricket has a new rising star, Usman Khawaja.
USMAN KHAWAJA’S cricket career has collided with his religion only once, when he forgot to tell the NSW coach Matthew Mott he was fasting for Ramadan, the Muslim holy month.
”He usually tells me when he’s doing Ramadan so I can ease up on him at training, but on this occasion he forgot to tell me and I thought he was loafing a bit,” Mott said.
”I put him through an extra tough session and by the end of it he was on all fours and a bit of a mess. He finally got around to telling me. I felt very bad.”
Khawaja, 23, moved closer to becoming Australia’s first Muslim Test cricketer yesterday when he was selected in the squad to play against the nation of his birth, Pakistan, in England next month. But for the elegant left-handed batsman, to be chosen as Australia’s 414th Test player would be more than enough.
There will be no torn loyalties. Khawaja has regarded Australia as home from the moment his father, Tariq, an information technology professional from Islamabad, moved the family to Sydney two decades ago. He said he had no reason to feel different when he entered the Australian dressing room. ”It never does cross my mind,” he said yesterday – ”until everyone else brings it up.”
Though his selection is significant for Australian cricket, Khawaja is exceptional for reasons other than his heritage. He gained his commercial pilot’s licence before he had learnt to drive because he was desperate to complete that so he could concentrate on his passion, cricket.
”He is a very disciplined person. He knows his priorities,” said Mr Khawaja, who woke yesterday to news of his son’s selection. ”At one stage he was playing [Australian] under-19s, doing his aviation degree and he was flying. He would study until two or three in the morning and he was the first one to get his commercial pilot’s licence out of the whole group. From day one he had this passion to play for Australia.
”He was also good in other sports as well but his heart was with the cricket,” said Mr Khawaja, who did the scoring for Khawaja’s grade club, Randwick, while his wife, Fozia, cooked biryani for the players’ afternoon tea…
There will undoubtedly be more such rising stars, if my observation of Sydney Boys High School cricket (right) over the past decade is any guide. Without the subcontinentals the school would have been hard up for stars.
More generally on Australian multiculturalism see Social diversity – the good news by economist Nicholas Gruen.
The standard result in the econometric literature on social diversity is that it leads to lower levels of trust in the community and lower provision of public goods. The experiment below confirms the former result in the short run, but not in the long run. This conforms with my own observation that populations – New York, Melbourne come to mind – can become very proud of their multicultural fabric, and the excitement it brings to life. My favourite interpretation of Australian post war immigration is the Philip Adams interpretation. “We started letting migrants in and found that it was a lot of fun”…