Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden joined a number of outspoken critics of the ECB’s suspension of Ollie Robinson on Monday following the discovery of the England debutant’s offensive tweets between 2012 and 2014. But the decision to give the player, the organisation and the cricketing fraternity a moment to consider the full picture is absolutely the right move.
Robinson’s Test debut against New Zealand at Lord’s last week was marred when Twitter users shared some historical tweets of the 27-year-old’s which painted him in a pretty terrible light. To simply dismiss them as “decade old” ramblings from a teenager who has now apologised and claim “the ECB has gone over the top by suspending him”, as Dowden did via Twitter on Monday, is to attempt to skirt around the issue.
The fast bowler’s perfectly-worded PR-speak apology after the opening day’s play on Wednesday might have actually been heartfelt, but we cannot know that for sure. Just as the ECB should have taken more time to unearth and address his social media behaviour and damaging views long before he was called up, they must now spend time investigating Robinson’s current frame of mind when it comes to racism, Islamophobia, sexism and the other horrible views he expressed in the various tweets shared over the past week.
Yes, he was young when the tweets were written – between 18 and 20 years old over the more than two-year span – and a further seven years developing as an adult and a cricketer may well have matured him and helped to bring his views into the 21st century.
But there can be no simple catch-all statement of “He was just a kid”, no “We all did daft stuff when we were 18”, because do you know what… there are people much older than 27 who are racist, who are sexist, who do put down those with mental or physical disabilities. Not everybody automatically becomes more tolerant between the age of 20 and 27, and so it is imperative that the ECB takes time to come to a decision on whether Robinson truly has learned his lesson.
To have allowed him to just turn in a carefully-written apology and then step out at Edgbaston on Thursday for the Second Test as though all was forgiven would have been severely damaging to an organisation and a sport that still has so much to learn when it comes to equality.
It was lost on nobody that the Robinson episode came to light on the same day that the ECB had led an anti-discrimination drive which saw England’s players wear black t-shirts proclaiming that ‘cricket is a game for everyone’ with messages on the back talking of the team, and the game, standing together against racism, homophobia and various other discriminatory practices.
Now the ECB has the chance to match the words with actions, and in suspending Robinson for as long as it takes to be satisfied that he truly has learned the error of his ways, they have taken the first step to proving that they mean business in rooting out the elements of society which embarrass us all.
Hopefully, they will find that Robinson meant every word of his statement and the bowler will be back soon to follow up on his excellent figures of 7 for 101 and a valuable 42 with the bat on debut. But it is only right that the game’s governing body take the matter incredibly seriously.
Robinson might have been young then, but he was still a man. It might have been between seven and nine years ago, but he must still answer for his abhorrent actions. And only when those investigating are 100 per cent satisfied that he is of a very different mind to 2014 should they welcome him back into the international cricket fold.