LET me at once declare an interest.
I like Andrew Gale.
I think he is a decent guy.
I think he is an excellent captain.
I think he is a splendid ambassador for Yorkshire County Cricket Club.
Most importantly, however, in light of the events that engulf him now, I do not believe that he is racist.
In fact, I do not think he has a racist bone in his body.
I can only imagine how difficult it must be to have that cloud hanging over his head.
For the benefit of anyone who has spent the last few days holidaying on Mars, or perhaps in that mythical country called “Kolpakia”, Gale is in hot water for allegedly racially abusing Ashwell Prince, the Lancashire batsman.
The nuts and bolts of a playground skirmish are these…
Prince, a black South African, was time-wasting towards the end of the third day of the Roses match at Old Trafford earlier this month with his side battling to save the game.
Earlier, Prince had been sledging the Yorkshire batsmen and generally living up to his reputation as a feisty on-field character.
Gale – never a shrinking violet when the heat starts to rise in the kitchen – moved closer towards Prince from his fielding position at cover-point.
He was right in Prince’s face, and Prince told him to “f*** off back to cover-point”.
Gale, in direct and knee-jerk response, said, “Well, you can f*** off back to your own country, you Kolpak f*****”, with Kolpak a term for those cricketers born outside England but able to play in this country as non-overseas players due to European Law.
Although the language clearly cannot be condoned, it was hardly unique in the heat of battle and there has historically been resentment among county professionals that Kolpak players – who are mostly white – are taking the place of home-grown ones, which is the context in which Gale’s advice to “f*** off back to your own country” needs to be understood.
The case against him – laid by the England and Wales Cricket Board, and due to be heard shortly – apparently rests, nonetheless, on whether the word “Kolpak” can be deemed racist.
No right-thinking person would claim that it could, with “Kolpak” a term of employment status rather than one relating to race or country.
Who can predict what will happen, however, and if found guilty by the ECB’s own disciplinary panel, Gale faces a further ban in addition to the two-match penalty already handed down for his language, which triggered an automatic suspension under the ECB’s disciplinary code following an earlier offence of dissent.
More seriously, a guilty charge would tarnish his image and reputation as captain, opening a potential can of worms.
For as soon as you start bandying words around like “racism”, serious words that have a lasting impact and do not go away easily, you have got to be terribly sure that they are the right words.
You are talking about somebody’s lifetime reputation; you are talking about how Gale is perceived in Yorkshire and the cricketing world.
It was not so many years ago that Yorkshire were accused in Parliament of “deep-rooted, embedded racism”, and they have worked tirelessly in recent times to engage with people of all ethnicities, work that should not be undone by this sideshow.
For let us be clear.
Gale was foolish.
He will know that.
He will have reproached himself a thousand times over and will realise that he should not have said what he did.
But he has been heavily punished already – banned for the final two games of the season, banned from being on the field at the very moment the Championship was won (a Championship he had done much to help win), banned from lifting the trophy itself – a cruel, callous decision by the ECB in my view – and now he faces a racism charge.
It is a pretty big penalty for a heat of the moment dust-up.
Personally, I believe this matter could have been sorted out quietly behind closed doors, with the umpires perhaps telling the Yorkshire coaches something along the lines of: “We didn’t overhear what Gale said, so we won’t be reporting the matter to Lord’s, but you might just want to give him one hell of a rollicking.”
I am not blaming the umpires, who were following procedure, more bemoaning the fact that something which might in the past have been sorted out by banging a few heads together has snowballed into something it is not – and never was.
The fear is that Gale has become a political pawn in the ECB corridors of power.
Colin Graves, the Yorkshire chairman and ECB deputy chairman, has been placed in the invidious position of being unable to help defend Gale, with Yorkshire vice-chairman Robin Smith and chief executive Mark Arthur instead handling matters.
Yorkshire, who are not commenting publicly on Gale’s situation, are standing fully behind him amid rumours they have enlisted a lawyer who once represented the footballer Luis Suarez.
The bottom line, however, is that there is a very real and necessary fight against the evil of racism in our world.
This preposterous charge against Gale has nothing whatsoever to do with that fight.