Reading

The Cricket Test

Amanda Huxtable says that her immigrant parents never really felt at home in Britain. How are people from another country integrated into society? What values are expected to be shared? What differences are accommodated? How much does an individual or a nation allow or encourage the display of allegiance to, or attachment to, culture, nation, or religion? In 1990, Norman Tebbit, a Member of Parliament, suggested a test to measure the loyalty of immigrants. He suggested asking immigrants whom they root for in a cricket match—their former country or Great Britain.

 

Members of Enland's national cricket team gather on the field to celebrate. The players are of many ethnicities.

Tebbit speculated that:

A large proportion of Britain’s Asian population fail to pass the cricket test. Which side do they cheer for? It’s an interesting test. Are you still harking back to where you came from or where you are?1

How is loyalty defined? Mangala Nanda argues that the cricket test is not a good measure of loyalty or Britishness at all:

I am British. I am also Indian. My family moved to England when I was 14, and I have lived exactly half my life in London. I cheer for India in cricket matches. I claim with pride that Sachin Tendulkar is Indian, and I scream with excitement when Sehwag hits yet another six. Norman Tebbit infers that I must be disloyal to Britain. I disagree. I challenge the very notion of this cricket test. I refuse to accept that an answer to his single question can capture the complexity of what I feel and who I am.

I grew up with a sense of excitement around Indian cricket matches. I remember that big matches were always accompanied with great anticipation at home; my dad and brother in particular would spend ages strategizing about India’s chances versus the opposing team. There was shouting at the TV, painful tension when it looked like we wouldn’t make it, elation when our batsmen managed to crank out sixes, and heart wrenching despair when we lost. Neither my brother nor I live at home now, so there aren’t often opportunities for us to watch matches together. My parents don’t normally subscribe to the sports cable channels either. But sometimes there’s a wonderful confluence of events—my brother and I are both home at the same time, and the Indian cricket team is on tour. My parents will fork out the extra £40 to subscribe to Sky Sports for the month—and we watch cricket together. Cheering for India is a special family tradition.

India Wins Cricket World Cup for first time in 28 years, April 2011, over Sri Lanka.

In India, cricket is a religion. People play it on the streets, in their backyards, and in the parks. And everyone plays it—rich people, poor people, south Indians, north Indians, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and more. Whenever I watch a match, I feel the nation’s collective excitement. I like to feel that connectedness with India. I don’t think that is unreasonable. We are all shaped by the stories of our families, and these inform the things we care about. India is certainly not the only, or the most important, part of me—but my story would be incomplete without it. When I cheer for India, I am not ‘harking back to where I was’ but acknowledging that there is a part of me that connects to India, today.

The Tebbit test fails to recognize the multi-faceted nature of identity. It forces people into boxes that may not reflect how they see themselves. Those who cheer for the country of their heritage are labeled ‘disloyal’, while those who choose to support Britain are not. I do feel connection to India, and this is reflected through my support of its cricket team.

But I am also deeply connected to Britain, through my engagement with society every single day. I am a socially responsible, politically engaged citizen and I choose to build my life in this country. So I am insulted by Tebbit’s assertion that I ‘fail’ in a test of loyalty. His black and white categorization does not allow me to express how much I love London, my friends, my work, and my life here. Perhaps if Lord Tebbit had engaged me in a conversation rather than a ‘test of loyalty’, he could have understood this a little better.2

In India, a cricket fan paints his face with white and red paint to show his allegiance to England.

Journalist Stephen Pollard believes that the idea of the test can reveal often unspoken assumptions about belonging. In a column for the Daily Telegraph, he used the idea of the ‘cricket test’ to illustrate the way that Jews are often thought of as outsiders.

Next Wednesday, England play[s] Andorra in a qualification match for the 2008 European Championships. I am rather surprised that nobody has yet asked me which team I want to win. Surprised, because all sorts of people have asked me the same question about England’s match tomorrow.

I was born, bred and brought up in London. I have only ever lived in England. …So why should anyone be in doubt as to which team I want to win tomorrow?

For one reason: I am Jewish, and tomorrow England plays Israel. And although, for most Englishmen, their support for the national football team is a given, for Jews, apparently, it is not. …

I’m an Englishman; I want England to win. But I hear echoes of the Tebbit test when people ask me which team I will be supporting when we play in Tel Aviv tomorrow. They are making (albeit unconsciously) an interesting point. They are assuming that, as a Jew, I am somehow not as English as they are. While their loyalty to the team is implicit, mine is— for no other reason than my Jewishness—open to question.

Their assumption is based on the latest incarnation of the medieval trope of the Wandering Jew, renewed in the 20th century in Fritz Hippler’s 1940 Nazi film, The Eternal Jew, and in Stalin’s labeling of Jews as ‘rootless cosmopolitans.’ In such portrayals, Jews remain loyal only to themselves and their tribe, wherever they happen to live, and scheme to undermine the state to their own nefarious ends.

The creation of Israel in 1948 gave this an added twist. Jews are no longer just a rootless tribe conspiring for their own advantage, but are now also agents of a foreign power who use their overweening influence in politics, business and the media to align foreign policy in Israel’s interests’ . . .

Jews are not alone in standing accused of being outsiders whose loyalties are not merely split, but are actively devoted to pursuing a foreign power’s agenda. When JFK stood for the presidency in 1960, his Roman Catholicism was presented as a barrier to his being a loyal president. Surely he would take instruction from the Vatican? He rebuffed the notion: ‘Whatever issue may come before me as President—on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling, or any other subject—I will make my decision in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.’

And many mainstream Muslims, who proudly see themselves as British, have no desire to establish the Caliphate and do not believe there is a contradiction between Islam and Western democracy, suffer a similar bigotry. Attaching such significance to frivolous jokes about split loyalties caused by a football match might seem over the top. But anti-Semitism is resurgent . . .

[W]hen you ask which team I want to win tomorrow, you are, even if in all innocence, proving my point.3

 

  1. Citations

    • 1 Darcus Howe, ‘Tebbit’s loyalty test is dead’, New Statesmen, 3 July, 2006, http://www.newstatesman.com/200607030029 (accessed 20 March 2009).
    • 2 Mangala Nanda, ‘Rethinking the Cricket Test’ (working paper, 20 March 2009).
    • 3 Stephan Pollard, ‘Am I Doubted Because I’m a Jew?’ Telegraph, 6 January 2009,http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/personal-view/3638653/Am-I-doubtedbec... (accessed 14 April 2009).

Connection Questions

  1. Why are some people asked to prove their loyalty while others are not? Why might some minorities feel particularly obligated to prove their loyalty?
  2. Tebbit argues that who you cheer for in a cricket match reveals your true loyalty and identity. What are the different components of your identity? Are there times when one part of your identity— age, gender, ethnicity, religion—feels more important than others?
  3. Why do you think Stephen Pollard was upset when people asked him what team he was going to root for? For him, what did the questions reveal about antisemitism?
  4. What do the selections suggest about the limitations of the Tebbit test as a way to explore identity?

Citations

  • antisemitism : A certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews. Antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for why things go wrong. It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.

Related Content

Image
Democracy & Civic Engagement

A Cricket Fan

In India, a cricket fan proudly displays his allegiance to England.

Image
Global Immigration

England's National Cricket Team

England's national cricket team now contains players of Pakistani, Sikh, Sri Lankan, South African, and Irish heritage.

Image
Genocide & Mass Violence
The Nanjing Atrocities

The Eight Nations Alliance

Troops of the Eight Nations Alliance, left to right: Britain, United States, Australian Colonial, British India, Germany, France, Austria-Hungary, Russia, Italy, Japan.

Video
Justice & Human Rights

Combat and the Colonies: the Role of Race in World War I

Journalist, lecturer, and author Adam Hochschild discusses the role African and Asian troops from European colonies played in World War I.

Search Our Collection

Everything you need to get started teaching your students about racism, antisemitism and prejudice.