PERSONAL MESSAGES IN CRICKET: A LOOK AT ICC’S CLOTHING AND EQUIPMENT REGULATIONS
The post has been authored by Hitesh Mallick.
Hitesh Mallick is a fourth-year, B.B.A. LL.B. student at National Law University Odisha. He's an ardent Football and Arsenal fan, who has served as a former sports blogger for various websites as well. For him, interest in sports law simply meant combining academics to his love for the game.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) has confirmed that the West Indies National Cricket Team will have the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ printed on their jerseys, on their upcoming tour of England for a test series. The ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement has received considerable traction around the globe following the death of George Floyd in the United States. The movement has also been supported in other sporting events and this is the first time that cricket has been involved in any form.
This, however, has not come without its fair share of controversy. Cricket fans were quick to point out ICC’s decision to not let former Indian Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni wear his wicket-keeping gloves which had the ‘Balidaan’ badge on it. In this blog post, we delve into the regulations surrounding the display of personal messages on cricketing apparel; the reasoning laid out in the decision in the case of MS Dhoni while comparing it to the West Indies' decision and analyze the difference in the rationale behind both these decisions.
THE MS DHONI DECISION
MS Dhoni while representing the Indian national team in the ICC World Cup 2019 wore a pair of wicket-keeping gloves which had the ‘Balidaan’ badge (symbol of the Indian Para Special Forces) on it. The International Cricket Council (“ICC”) reacted by saying that Dhoni could keep the badge only if it is proved that the badge does not have any political, religious, or racial message. In the end, he was banned from using the badge. However, there was a lot of public outrage back in India regarding the decision.
The ICC in its press release stated that “The regulations for ICC events do not permit any individual message or logo to be displayed on any items of clothing or equipment. In addition to this, the logo also breaches the regulations in relation to what is permitted on wicket-keeper gloves.” This statement can be divided into two parts because they are dealt with under different provisions of the ICC Clothing and Equipment Rules and Regulations and for this blog post we shall only consider the first part of the statement.
ANALYZING THE REGULATIONS
The ICC Clothing and Equipment Rules and Regulations (hereinafter referred to as “The ICC Regulations”) provides for logos and messages that can be portrayed on the cricketing jerseys and equipment that are used. The first part of the MS Dhoni decision is covered by Rule G 1 of The ICC Regulations which states that;
“Players and team officials shall not be permitted to wear, display or otherwise convey personal messages on their clothing, equipment or otherwise, irrespective of whether such messages are affixed to clothing, equipment or otherwise and whether such messages are displayed or conveyed through the use of the specific clothing or other items (e.g. an armband) or by the use of words, symbol, graphic message, images or otherwise (“Personal Messages”) unless approved in advance by both the player or team official’s Board and the ICC Cricket Operations Department. Approval shall not be granted for messages which relate to political, religious, or racial activities or causes. The ICC shall have the final say in determining whether any such message is approved…”
The ICC Regulations clarify that the starting point in determining whether a message is ‘political’, ‘religious’ or ‘racial’ is to check if cricket has been used as a platform to “draw attention to potentially divisive political issues, rhetoric or agendas.” The ICC also states that each case will be decided on its own merits by taking into account the views of any other relevant team or player, the response in media to such message in all relevant countries, the duration of such display of message and the purpose and the impact of the said message. It is also stated that if a message is commemorative or serves a charitable purpose it is more likely to be permitted instead of a message that indicates “support for a particular government, political party or individual.”
In the case of MS Dhoni, the ‘Balidaan’ badge could have been construed to represent the Indian government considering that the regimental dagger insignia is the symbol of the Indian Para Special Forces. MS Dhoni’s case is not the first of its kind where ICC has banned a player from donning a personal message. In 2014, ICC had also banned Moeen Ali from wearing wrist bands with the words “Save Gaza” and “Free Palestine” after the English Cricket board had cleared the usage of the wrist bands. The statement made by ICC also included the response from the Match Referee towards the wrist bands, that said, “Moeen Ali was told by the Match Referee that whilst he is free to express his views on such causes away from the cricket field, he is not permitted to wear the wristbands on the field of play and warned not to wear the bands again during an international match.” Along the same lines, Imran Tahir was also reprimanded by the ICC when he displayed a picture of Junaid Jamshed, the singer-turned evangelist who had died in a plane crash on December 7, 2016. Imran Tahir had not sought permission from either the national cricket board or ICC before displaying the message on his undershirt in a match against Sri Lanka.
ANALYZING THE DECISIONS BY ICC
In the author’s opinion, the ICC has correctly decided all these cases in light of the guidance note to Rule G1 issued under the ICC Regulations. It is difficult to deduce a ratio because ICC does not release the basis on which it decides each case. To understand the reasoning behind all the decisions mentioned above, a few more decisions from the ICC have to be analyzed. In 2003, Andy Flower and Henry Olonga (hereinafter referred to as the “Black Armbands” case) walked out with black armbands to "mourn the death of democracy in Zimbabwe" in a World Cup match against Namibia to protest against the human rights issues that plagued Zimbabwe then. Later, the pair was let off with a warning by the ICC. In 2016, the ICC had permitted the English Cricket team to have poppies on their shirts in a test match against India to mark Remembrance Day (hereinafter referred to as the “Poppies Case”). Moreover, in 2019, the Indian Cricket Team (hereinafter referred to as the “Military Caps Case”) wore camouflage military caps in their ODI against Australia. Consequently, Pakistan wrote a strongly worded letter to ICC objecting to the usage of such caps on the cricket field claiming that the gesture was being used to politicize the sport. However, the ICC communicated that the gesture to use the caps had received prior acceptance. It was granted because the gesture was “a part of the fundraising drive and in memory of fallen soldiers who had died.”
From analyzing all the decisions, it seems that ICC places importance on three factors:
a) Whether there is a particular occasion of the commemoration b) If the personal message was for a charitable purpose and c) The collectiveness behind the display of the personal message.
In the case of MS Dhoni, it was a general appreciation for the paramilitary forces, and the decision to exhibit the dagger was not motivated by a certain commemorative occasion as it was in the Poppies Case and the Military Caps Case. In the Poppies Case, it was Remembrance Day and in the Military Caps Case, it was for the soldiers who had lost their lives in the Pulwama attack in 2019.
Additionally, it is noticeable that ICC places an important value on fundraising activities i.e., if the athletes have used that particular personal message for a charitable purpose. In the cases of Imran Tahir or Moeen Ali, it was never found that both the players had used the messages to raise funds. Even though Moeen had previously raised funds for charities, but whether the wrist bands used were for a charitable purpose was not proved. While, in the Military Caps Case, the Indian Cricket Team was given permission because the military caps were worn for fundraising.
Lastly, it is seen that in all the cases where teams as a collective unit sported a personal message, have received the green light from the ICC to display it and the current case of the West Indies team has followed the same trend as the Poppies Case and Military Caps Case.
In conclusion, a movement as widespread as the “Black Lives Matter” movement is not limited to a nation or a government and hence can be seen as serving a charitable purpose. Having the phrase on the jerseys of the West Indies Cricket Team can be seen as a move to drive awareness about the prevailing racism through the platform of cricket. The guidance note says that ICC and its member associations acknowledge “cricket should be used as a tool to bring people and communities around the world together” and in the author’s opinion, having ‘Black Lives Matter’ on the collars showcases the inclusiveness of the gentleman’s game.
The author can be reached for comments on his email at email@example.com
Cite as: Hitesh Mallick, Personal Messages In Cricket: A Look at ICC’s Clothing and Equipment Regulations, Extra-Cover: The Sports Law Blog of India (13th Jul 2020), Accessed at https://www.extra-cover.org/post/personal-messages-in-cricket-a-look-at-icc-s-clothing-and-equipment-regulations [Date of Access].