Sports & Games

Khawaja’s Shoes with Freedom and Equality Messages Cause Stir Before Pakistan-Australia Clash

Australia’s opening batsman Usman Khawaja has stirred up a controversy by wearing shoes with messages of freedom and equality, which are seen as a show of support for the Palestinians in Gaza, who are under a brutal Israeli assault.

Khawaja, who was born in Pakistan and moved to Australia when he was four, wore the shoes during his team’s main training session on Tuesday, ahead of the first Test against Pakistan in Perth, which starts on Thursday.

The shoes had the slogans “Freedom is a human right” and “All lives are equal” written on them. According to Australian media reports, Khawaja planned to wear the same shoes during the match as well.

However, the International Cricket Council (ICC), the governing body of the sport, has rules that prohibit players from wearing, displaying or conveying messages through arm bands or other items on clothing or equipment without prior approval. The rules also state that messages related to political, religious or racial activities or causes are not allowed.

The ICC has not yet commented on the matter, but it is expected that Khawaja will not be allowed to wear the shoes in the Test match.

Cricket Australia, the national cricket board, issued a statement on Wednesday, saying that it supports the right of its players to express personal opinions, but also expects them to abide by the ICC rules.

“We support the right of our players to express personal opinions. But the ICC has rules in place which prohibit the display of personal messages which we expect the players to uphold,” the statement said.

Australia’s captain Pat Cummins also confirmed that Khawaja will not wear the shoes with the messages in the first Test, but defended his teammate’s right to voice his views and encouraged other players to have “passionate views” on various issues.

“Uzzie doesn’t want to make too big of a fuss, on his shoes he had ‘all lives are equal’, I think that’s not very divisive, I don’t think anyone can have too many complaints about that,” Cummins said at a press conference.

“He’s got some passionate views and I think that’s great. I think it’s great that we’ve got players who care about different things and are willing to stand up for them,” he added.

Khawaja, who is a devout Muslim, has not yet spoken publicly about his shoes, but he is reportedly determined to fight for approval for them and seek permission from the ICC to wear them in future matches.

Khawaja’s shoes are being linked to a show of solidarity for the Palestinians in Gaza, who are facing a humanitarian crisis as a result of Israel’s ongoing bombardment, which has killed at least 18,205 people, according to the Gaza health ministry.

Khawaja is not the first cricketer to express his support for the Palestinian cause. In 2014, England’s Moeen Ali, who is also a Muslim of Pakistani origin, was banned by the ICC from wearing wristbands featuring the slogans “Save Gaza” and “Free Palestine” during a Test match against India.

The ICC, however, has allowed players to “take the knee” before international matches in support of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, which protests against racial injustice and police brutality, in 2020 and 2021.

Khawaja’s shoes have also received backing from Australia’s Sports Minister Anika Wells, who said that he should have every right to speak up on matters that are important to him.

“I have always advocated for athletes having the right to a voice and to speak up on matters important to them,” she told local media.

"Usman Khawaja is a great athlete and a great Australian. He should have every right to speak up on matters that are important to him.

“He has done so in a peaceful and respectful way. He has done so as an individual and expressed an individual opinion that does not compromise the Australian cricket team’s obligations to the ICC.”

Khawaja, who is one of Australia’s most experienced and successful batsmen, will be hoping to put the controversy behind him and focus on his performance in the Test series against Pakistan, which is his country of birth and where he still has relatives.

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