Tom Peck: Moeen Ali should be given a break over 'Save Gaza' wristband

Mandela and the 1968 Olympics protesters show that sport and politics can mix to positive effect

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The Independent Online

Somewhere amidst the flattened schools and hospitals of Gaza it’d be nice to imagine there might be someone, just one solitary person, wearing a “Save England Cricket” wristband. Someone for whom, amid the never-ending destruction, the flame of hope has not yet been extinguished.

Yes, what is the point, you might ask? What do such gestures actually achieve? And why save English cricket? Why not Bangladeshi? Zimbabwean? Even Dutch?

And yes, Lord’s may belong to us, in a historic sense, and Headingley too, but India, Australia, Sri Lanka and the rest have every right to pulverise us upon it, to strip us of all dignity, don’t they?

But hope, as someone once said, is an audacious thing, and from the mire of seemingly intractable despair has risen that near forgotten treasure – an England Test victory. The first in a year.

It came, poetically enough, via the turn of the newly denuded wrist of England’s Moeen Ali, two days after the International Cricket Council had told him in no uncertain terms that attempting to “Save Gaza” through the power of the wristband simply wasn’t cricket.

He only wore the two offending items, one reading “Save Gaza,” the other “Free Palestine” for part of one day of the five-day match, but it was long enough.

“The ICC equipment and clothing regulations do not permit the display of messages that relate to political, religious or racial activities or causes during an international match,” the ICC said, and the bands were gone. (The following day the whole team wore Help for Heroes logos on their shirts, it being the 100th anniversary of the First World War but that, apparently,  was different).

Quite right too, it was widely felt. “What has Moeen Ali actually achieved?” was a question put to this column (to which the answer might be capturing and redirecting the attention of the huge section of sport’s vast audience that doesn’t care in the slightest about the news).

“He is not a protester, he is England’s No 6. He should do these things on his own time,” was also suggested.

That such voices have now fallen silent, as Moeen’s match-winning delivery was met with the announcement of a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza only confirms the two eventualities cannot be unconnected.

But it does beg the question as to whether sport and politics can and should be separated?

If “Save Gaza” wristbands should be allowed “presumably a ‘pro-Ukip, anti-EU’ band should be allowed too?” was a question fired, on Twitter, right down this column’s corridor of uncertainty.

The obvious answer is no. One is an ongoing, life or death, humanitarian crisis. The other isn’t. But on reflection, if Joe Root or Stuart Broad are in fact proud “send-the-buggers-back”-ites forced reluctantly in to the closet by their cricketing overlords perhaps we have a right to know.

Certainly, it’s not a simple question. International governing bodies are probably right to try and keep politics out. India have to play Pakistan at cricket, every so often, and one day in the distant future England might be good enough to play Falklands-loving Argentina at football. And the geopolitical tightropes that must be walked each time almost every nation on earth gathers biennially for the Olympics are such that since Beijing 2008, each competing country is required to sign a “Peace Wall” in the Athlete’s Village; an initiative only mildly undermined by Vladimir Putin dropping bombs on pro-Georgia separatists during the opening ceremony.

But even if the rule is a worthwhile one, it isn’t a contradiction to applaud the few occasions when it is broken.

Those two black gloves raised into the Mexico night in 1968 ended with both men, John Carlos and Tommie Smith, sent home and kicked out of Team USA (Even the Australian silver medalist, Peter Norman, was effectively dropped for the next Games four years later, just for standing with them). The crowd, Carlos later said, went so quiet “you could have heard a frog piss on cotton”.

One would have to search long and hard for any serious sports fan who would wish that moment never happened.

“Sport has the power to change the world,” another civil rights campaigner called Nelson Mandela once said, five years after transfixing a nation by wearing the jersey of its Boer captain and handing him the Rugby World Cup trophy. “It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.”

And in winning a Test match, so can Moeen Ali, that much is clear. So let’s give that magic wrist a break.

At least we can see Messi’s financial high jinx first-hand

As the Premier League’s brightest star departs for sunny Spain, it’s reassuring to know one of his La Liga colleagues is over there giving something back. As Russia’s oligarchs realised long ago and Lionel Messi may have cottoned on to, the true galacticos of tax evasion and offshore accounting have long done their best work right here.

We should probably be flattered that, according to documents filed by Spanish tax prosecutors, on their long journey from Switzerland Messi’s millions jinked first through two British companies, then left Uruguay Revenue floundering on its backside before being delicately scooped up over the onrushing Atlantic and landing with that air of predictable devastation, in the offshore tax haven of Belize.

Oh well. One little part in a deliberately opaque web of financial restructuring. It’s probably as much of him as we’ll ever see first hand.