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The empire strikes back

On the eve of an eagerly awaited Ashes series, Peter Wilby reveals how the forces of globalisation a

Whoever designed this summer’s cricket programme must have had a sly sense of humour. Immediately after the newest, brashest form of the game, the World Twenty20, comes the oldest, most traditional contest of all: an Ashes series between England and Australia comprising five five-day Test matches, starting in Cardiff on Wednesday. White clothes, red balls and ancient rituals of lunch and tea replace the coloured costumes, white balls and dancing girls that greet each Twenty20 boundary. It is as though a performance of the St Matthew Passion had been preceded by a karaoke session.

It is one of cricket’s strengths that it is infinitely adaptable, and that a short game can be as demanding of players’ skills as the longer versions. For cricket connoisseurs, however, there can be no doubt about which form of the game is superior. There are rarely empty seats for the first three days of a midsummer Test in England, and never for the Ashes. For a few weeks between Wimbledon and the start of the football season, cricket will hold public and media attention, with Kevin Pietersen’s Achilles attracting the coverage normally reserved for Wayne Rooney’s metatarsal. Yet the survival of the traditional game hangs by a thread. Earlier this year, when England visited the Caribbean, where cricket once brought normal life to a standstill, most support came from England’s travelling “Barmy Army” – and even they couldn’t half-fill the region’s modest stadiums. Tests during England’s most recent tour of Pakistan, in 2005-2006, attracted roughly 10,000 a day only by giving away 70 per cent of the tickets. The first Test between South Africa and Australia in Johannesburg this year, for the unofficial world championship, attracted average crowds of fewer than 15,000 spectators a day in a ground that holds 34,000.

The rulers of English cricket would never admit it (they have spent more than a century denying the need for change, until desperation forces it upon them) but, in most countries, Test matches might not survive another decade. The Ashes may go on for longer – much depends on whether England remain competitive, as they have managed only spasmodically for the past 20 years. But, as the former Somerset captain and writer Peter Roebuck observed, “the remarkable thing is not that shorter matches have been introduced, but that the longer version endures”.

The rise of India has changed everything. The subcontinent now generates 70 per cent of world cricket’s revenues and doesn’t hesitate to exercise the power and influence that brings. Cricket has always been a vehicle for national self-assertion. The ruling elite of Victorian England saw it as part of the empire’s civilising mission, binding its far-flung subjects into loyalty to the mother country and its values. “To play it . . . honourably,” said Lord Harris, the governor general of colonial Bombay in the 1890s and a former captain of Kent, “is a moral lesson in itself and the classroom is God’s air and sunshine.”

Later, the game would unite the scattered populations of Australia, becoming an expression of Australianness: aggressive, unsentimental, egalitarian, unadorned by frills and refinements. In the West Indies, cricket began as a proclamation of white settler supremacy – no black player was allowed to become the regular captain until 1960 – then turned into an assertion of black autonomy and self-respect. Now India, an emerging world power in politics and economics, finds in cricket an arena where it may dominate.

It offers by far the largest and most lucrative market for the game. As the academics Nalin Mehta, Jon Gemmell and Dominic Malcolm put it in the current issue of the Sport in Society journal, “cricketers are the biggest brand names in the [Indian] consumer economy”. The Indian Premier League (IPL), a Twenty20 competition between city-based teams that is modelled on the English football Premiership, offers players previously unimaginable sums for a couple of months’ cricket. For 2008, the league’s first year, global media rights and team franchises were sold for $1.7bn and some players commanded contracts worth more than $1m. This year, security fears during a general election forced the league into exile in South Africa, but that seems likely to be a temporary setback. Across the world, many of the best professional players no longer aspire to a Test place but want an IPL contract.

Leading England players are still bound by contracts that supposedly limit their freedom to play elsewhere. But the IPL offered Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff, the two star players, £450,000 over three weeks. The ECB dared not stop them from joining the league, even though they risked injury ahead of the Ashes. Flintoff’s agent has already suggested that leading players will in future refuse contracts from their national boards, offering themselves, like golf players, to the highest bidders from tournaments around the world. Now that England’s attempt to enlist Allen Stanford as saviour has ended in disaster – the Texan was arrested on fraud charges in the US – most such bidders are likely to be Indian.

Once, the English would have enlisted their Australian allies to keep the uppity natives in their place. In 1996, after a series of wrangles over, for example, who should host the next World Cup, England, Australia, the West Indies and New Zealand drew up a secret plan to split world cricket by playing each other and nobody else. Anything on those lines is now inconceivable, because leading players would opt to follow the money to India. Talk of “mercenaries”, lacking commitment to their national team, rings hollow when Pietersen is a South African (and by no means the first one) who opted for England to maximise his income. Moreover, the Twenty20 game, enthusiastically embraced in India, was invented in England to shore up the budgets of penurious county clubs.

India’s new power represents an astonishing reversal of history. For a century, from the first Test match against Australia in 1877, England was the undisputed ruler of world cricket. The Imperial Cricket Conference (ICC), formed in 1909 by England, Australia and South Africa, administered the international game, but was in reality a front for the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), based at Lord’s in north London. This was a private club of the English elite that had governed the domestic game and laid down the rules (or “Laws”, as they are pompously called) since 1787. The ICC (renamed the International Cricket Council in 1989) became an independent body only in 1993. Until then, England and Australia retained a veto over any decision taken by other cricketing nations. When a World Cup was first created (involving matches of 50 overs each side), the first three tournaments, in 1975, 1979 and 1983, were all held in England.

But by then, the English elite’s control was already threatened. In 1977, the Australian TV mogul Kerry Packer bought up most of the best players and established his own cricket circuit, with white balls, coloured clothing and floodlit matches, all now familiar but then thought revolutionary. The authorities tried to ban the “mercenaries” from playing again in England, only to be overruled by the courts. The matter was settled when Packer, who set up his circus because he was denied Australia’s cricket broadcasting rights, got what he considered his fair share of the official action. But the lesson for Lord’s – repeated during the 1980s as South Africa, isolated by apartheid, tempted leading players into “rebel tours” – was that, to repel further raiders, it must allow the best cricketers an income that reflected their commercial value.

The English reluctance to take professionalism seriously lies at the heart of cricket’s crisis in this country. Cricket, as the historian Ross McKibbin has pointed out, was until the 1950s the most “national” of all sports. Unlike football and rugby league (working class) or tennis and rugby union (middle class), it was played and watched by people across the social spectrum. Its strongholds were not just in the shires and suburban villages, as its literary and artistic representations might suggest, but in the mill-towns of Lancashire and Yorkshire. Between the wars, the 14 clubs of the Lancashire League – all within 20 miles of Blackburn – got 200,000 spectators a season and sometimes more than 300,000, totals that few county championship clubs could match. The northern leagues attracted overseas professionals, such as the West Indian Learie Constantine, who was paid £750 a season when the maximum football wage was £500.

But cricket never quite escaped the control achieved by the English ruling classes in the early 19th century. The game came to embody patrician values and political attitudes. Style – keeping a straight bat, for example – counted for more than technique and success. The earliest organised games involved dukes and earls raising teams that included grooms, gardeners, butlers, gamekeepers and labourers. The plebs did the bowling, fielded energetically and scored runs inelegantly to leg while aristocrats captained the teams, fielded languidly and batted stylishly, if often briefly and ineffectually. (Rugby had a similar divide between squat, determined working-class forwards who won the ball so that long-striding, socially superior three-quarters could run with it.)

So it remained for generations. Until very recently, English cricket was feudal in its structure. Most players were vassals, poorly paid during their careers and dependent for security beyond retirement on a “benefit” (a tax-free lump sum derived from gate receipts, raffles and collections), awarded by the good grace of their social betters on county committees. Like the passive Russian serfs who so infuriated Lenin, all but a few professionals humbly accepted their lot. The late cricket commentator John Arlott, himself a Liberal Party supporter, doubted there were more than half a dozen Labour voters in the whole county game. If cricket has faced upheavals over the past 30 years, they represent not a workers’ uprising, but a bourgeois revolution which, to borrow from Marx and Engels, “has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his ‘natural superiors’”.

A distinction between amateurs and professionals continued until the 1960s: most county captains and, with one exception (Len Hutton), all England captains were amateurs. Because amateurs were often paid more than professionals, the distinction was a social one, and the fault-line survives to this day. The old-style, straight-talking professional, lacking in social graces, often leaves the England captaincy under a cloud: Brian Close (1967, time-wasting in a county match), Mike Gatting (1988, consorting with a barmaid during a Test), Kevin Pietersen (2009, insubordination) are examples. Players such as the current captain, Andrew Strauss (Radley College and Durham University) – euphemistically described by cricket writers as “thoughtful” – fit the English idea of a natural leader.

English cricket held the plebs at bay not only on the field but also at the turnstiles. It might have retained, even enhanced, its wide appeal, but attempts to make the game more competitive and popular were resisted until there was no alternative. A knockout cup (first proposed in 1873, introduced in 1963), Sunday cricket, a two-division championship, 20-overs-a-side games on summer evenings were introduced only when the county game faced bankruptcy. Until the 1960s, the counties played only three-day matches while the masses were at work; professionals played for a pittance because most revenue came from socially exclusive county memberships. Cricket still prefers small numbers of affluent supporters, many of them in corporate boxes, to a mass following. Black supporters, who keenly attended Tests involving the West Indies until the 1990s, have been largely priced out, along with many Indian and Pakistani fans.

This history leaves English cricket ill-equipped to cope with the game’s new world order. Globalisation, in sport as in economics, can be cruelly destructive of tradition. It favours mass production over craft skills, and international brands over long-established local names. Through TV and the internet, cricket, like football, can now reach a global audience, and the instant excitement and simplicity of Twenty20 – which, some think, might even catch on in America or China – make it a more sellable form of the game than the subtleties of Test matches.

Once, sporting loyalties were based on locality. Now, Manchester United – essentially a multinational business – matters almost as much in Shanghai as it does in Salford. A top football player’s first loyalty is no longer to an international team but, first, to his own brand and, second, to his club. Something similar is happening to cricket, the difference being that while England, with its Premiership, is a football superpower (as it is also a rugby union superpower), it must yield second place to India in cricket. The Delhi Daredevils or Royal Challengers Bangalore will compete for the services of a Flintoff or a Pietersen, as Manchester United and Real Madrid compete for Ronaldo.

To most of the cricketing world, the Ashes series will be a quaint sideshow. But the rivalry with Australia remains English cricket’s most precious asset, the only event that still holds the nation’s attention. Even that may not last much longer. Since the Second World War, England have only occasionally beaten Australia, usually by small margins and often at times of upheaval (as when Packer signed up nearly the entire Australian first team).

England narrowly won the 2005 series – hailed by the editor of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack as the greatest of all – and yet, give or take a couple of dropped catches, they could easily have lost. That would have made it nine consecutive series defeats since 1989, all by decisive margins. After another defeat in 2006-2007, would the nation then be awaiting this series so eagerly? Would Australia – who, before 2005, increasingly treated India as their more important rival – still be interested? And if England lose badly over the next two months, will 2005 come to be seen as a brief, happy revival of a dying contest?

Peter Wilby was editor of the New Statesman from 1998-2005. He is writing a socialist history of cricket

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 06 July 2009 issue of the New Statesman, HOWZAT!

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We need to talk about the online radicalisation of young, white women

Alt-right women are less visible than their tiki torch-carrying male counterparts - but they still exist. 

In November 2016, the writer and TED speaker Siyanda Mohutsiwa tweeted a ground-breaking observation. “When we talk about online radicalisation we always talk about Muslims. But the radicalisation of white men online is at astronomical levels,” she wrote, inspiring a series of mainstream articles on the topic (“We need to talk about the online radicalisation of young, white men,” wrote Abi Wilkinson in The Guardian). It is now commonly accepted that online radicalisation is not limited to the work of Isis, which uses social media to spread propaganda and recruit new members. Young, white men frequently form alt-right and neo-Nazi beliefs online.

But this narrative, too, is missing something. When it comes to online radicalisation into extreme right-wing, white supremacist, or racist views, women are far from immune.

“It’s a really slow process to be brainwashed really,” says Alexandra*, a 22-year-old former-racist who adopted extreme views during the United States presidential election of 2016. In particular, she believed white people to be more intelligent than people of colour. “It definitely felt like being indoctrinated into a cult.”

Alexandra was “indoctrinated” on 4Chan, the imageboard site where openly racist views flourish, especially on boards such as /pol/. It is a common misconception that 4Chan is only used by loser, basement-dwelling men. In actuality, 4Chan’s official figures acknowledge 30 percent of its users are female. More women may frequent 4Chan and /pol/ than it first appears, as many do not announce their gender on the site because of its “Tits or GTFO” culture. Even when women do reveal themselves, they are often believed to be men who are lying for attention.

“There are actually a lot of females on 4chan, they just don't really say. Most of the time it just isn't relevant,” says Alexandra. Her experiences on the site are similar to male users who are radicalised by /pol/’s far-right rhetoric. “They sowed the seeds of doubt with memes,” she laughs apprehensively. “Dumb memes and stuff and jokes…

“[Then] I was shown really bullshit studies that stated that some races were inferior to others like… I know now that that’s bogus science, it was bad statistics, but I never bothered to actually look into the truth myself, I just believed what was told to me.”

To be clear, online alt-right radicalisation still skews majority male (and men make up most of the extreme far-right, though women have always played a role in white supremacist movements). The alt-right frequently recruits from misogynistic forums where they prey on sexually-frustrated males and feed them increasingly extreme beliefs. But Alexandra’s story reveals that more women are part of radical right-wing online spaces than might first be apparent.

“You’d think that it would never happen to you, that you would never hold such horrible views," says Alexandra. "But it just happened really slowly and I didn't even notice it until too late."

***

We are less inclined to talk about radical alt-right and neo-Nazi women because they are less inclined to carry out radical acts. Photographs that emerged from the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville this weekend revealed that it was mostly polo shirt-wearing young, white men picking up tiki torches, shouting racial slurs, and fighting with counter-protestors. The white supremacist and alt-right terror attacks of the last year have also been committed by men, not women. But just because women aren’t as visible doesn’t mean they are not culpable.  

“Even when people are alt-right or sympathisers with Isis, it’s a tiny percentage of people who are willing or eager to die for those reasons and those people typically have significant personal problems and mental health issues, or suicidal motives,” explains Adam Lankford, author of The Myth of Martyrdom: What Really Drives Suicide Bombers, Rampage Shooters, and Other Self-Destructive Killers.

“Both men and women can play a huge role in terms of shaping the radicalised rhetoric that then influences those rare people who commit a crime.”

Prominent alt-right women often publicly admit that their role is more behind-the-scenes. Ayla Stewart runs the blog Wife With a Purpose, where she writes about “white culture” and traditional values. She was scheduled to speak at the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally before dropping out due to safety concerns. In a blog post entitled “#Charlottesville May Have Redefined Women’s Roles in the Alt Right”, she writes:

“I’ve decided that the growth of the movement has necessitated that I pick and choose my involvement as a woman more carefully and that I’m more mindful to chose [sic] women’s roles only.”

These roles include public speaking (only when her husband is present), gaining medical skills, and “listening to our men” in order to provide moral support. Stewart declined to be interviewed for this piece.

It is clear, therefore, that alt-right women do not have to carry out violence to be radical or radicalised. In some cases, they are complicit in the violence that does occur. Lankford gives the example of the Camp Chapman attack, committed by a male Jordanian suicide bomber against a CIA base in Afghanistan.

“What the research suggests in that case was the guy who ultimately committed the suicide bombing may have been less radical than his wife,” he explains. “His wife was actually pushing him to be more radical and shaming him for his lack of courage.” 

***

Just because women are less likely to be violent doesn’t mean they are incapable of it.

Angela King is a former neo-Nazi who went to prison for her part in the armed robbery and assault of a Jewish shop owner. She now runs Life After Hate, a non-profit that aims to help former right-wing extremists. While part of a skinhead gang, it was her job to recruit other women to the cause.

“I was well known for the violence I was willing to inflict on others… often times the men would come up to me and say we don’t want to physically hurt a woman so can you take care of this,” King explains. “When I brought other women in I looked for the same qualities in them that I thought I had in myself.”

King's 1999 mugshot

 

These traits, King explains, were anger and a previous history of violence. She was 15 when she became involved with neo-Nazis, and explains that struggles with her sexuality and bullying had made her into a violent teenager.

“I was bullied verbally for years. I didn't fit in, I was socially awkward,” she says. One incident in particular stands out. Aged 12, King was physically bullied for the first time.

“I was humiliated in a way that even today I still am humiliated by this experience,” she says. One day, King made the mistake of sitting at a desk that “belonged” to a bully. “She started a fight with me in front of the entire class… I’ve always struggled with weight so I was a little bit pudgy, I had my little training bra on, and during the fight she ripped my shirt open in front of the entire class.

“At that age, having absolutely no self-confidence, I made the decision that if I became the bully, and took her place, I could never be humiliated like that again.”

Angela King, aged 18

King’s story is important because when it comes to online radicalisation, the cliché is that bullied, “loser” men are drawn to these alt-right and neo-Nazi communities. The most prominent women in the far-right (such as Stewart, and Lauren Southern, a YouTuber) are traditionally attractive and successful, with long blonde hair and flashing smiles. In actuality, women that are drawn to the movement online might be struggling, like King, to be socially accepted. This in no way justifies or excuses extreme behaviour, but can go some way to explaining how and why certain young women are radicalised. 

“At the age of 15 I had been bullied, raped. I had started down a negative path you know, experimenting with drugs, drinking, theft. And I was dealing with what I would call an acute identity crisis and essentially I was a very, very angry young woman who was socially awkward who did not feel like I had a place in the world, that I fit in anywhere. And I had no self-confidence or self-esteem. I hated everything about myself.”

King explains that Life After Hate’s research reveals that there are often non-ideological based precursors that lead people to far right groups. “Individuals don’t go to hate groups because they already hate everyone, they go seeking something. They go to fill some type of void in their lives that they’re not getting.”

None of this, of course, excuses the actions and beliefs of far-right extremists, but it does go some way to explaining how “normal” young people can be radicalised online. I ask Alexandra, the former 4Chan racist, if anything else was going on in her life when she was drawn towards extreme beliefs.

“Yes, I was lonely,” she admits.                                                       

***

That lonely men and women can both be radicalised in the insidious corners of the internet shouldn’t be surprising. For years, Isis has recruited vulnerable young women online, with children as young as 15 becoming "jihadi brides". We have now acknowledged that the cliché of virginal, spotty men being driven to far-right hate excludes the college-educated, clean-cut white men who made up much of the Unite the Right rally last weekend. We now must realise that right-wing women, too, are radicalised online, and they, too, are culpable for radical acts.  

It is often assumed that extremist women are radicalised by their husbands or fathers, which is aided by statements by far-right women themselves. The YouTuber, Southern, for example, once said:  

“Anytime they [the left] talk about the alt-right, they make it sound like it’s just about a bunch of guys in basements. They don’t mention that these guys have wives – supportive wives, who go to these meet-ups and these conferences – who are there – so I think it’s great for right-wing women to show themselves. We are here. You’re wrong.”

Although there is truth in this statement, women don’t have to have far-right husbands, brothers, or fathers in order to be drawn to white supremacist or alt-right movements. Although it doesn’t seem the alt-right are actively preying on young white women the same way they prey on young white men, many women are involved in online spaces that we wrongly assume are male-only. There are other spaces, such as Reddit's r/Hawtschwitz, where neo-Nazi women upload nude and naked selfies, carving a specific space for themselves in the online far-right. 

When we speak of women radicalised by husbands and fathers, we misallocate blame. Alexandra deeply regrets her choices, but she accepts they were her own. “I’m not going to deny that what I did was bad because I have to take responsibility for my actions,” she says.

Alexandra, who was “historically left-wing”, was first drawn to 4Chan when she became frustrated with the “self-righteousness” of the website Tumblr, favoured by liberal teens. Although she frequented the site's board for talking about anime, /a/, not /pol/, she found neo-Nazi and white supremacist beliefs were spread there too. 

“I was just like really fed up with the far left,” she says, “There was a lot of stuff I didn't like, like blaming males for everything.” From this, Alexandra became anti-feminist and this is how she was incrementally exposed to anti-Semitic and racist beliefs. This parallels the story of many radicalised males on 4Chan, who turn to the site from hatred of feminists or indeed, all women. 

 “What I was doing was racist, like I – deep down I didn't really fully believe it in my heart, but the seeds of doubt were sowed again and it was a way to fit in. Like, if you don't regurgitate their opinions exactly they’ll just bully you and run you off.”

King’s life changed in prison, where Jamaican inmates befriended her and she was forced to reassess her worldview. Alexandra now considers herself “basically” free from prejudices, but says trying to rid herself of extreme beliefs is like “detoxing from drugs”. She began questioning 4Chan when she first realised that they genuinely wanted Donald Trump to become president. “I thought that supporting Trump was just a dumb meme on the internet,” she says.

Nowadays, King dedicates her life to helping young people escape from far-right extremism. "Those of us who were involved a few decades ago we did not have this type of technology, cell phones were not the slim white phones we have today, they were giant boxes," she says. "With the younger individuals who contact us who grew up with this technology, we're definitely seeing people who initially stumbled across the violent far-right online and the same holds for men and women.

"Instead of having to be out in public in a giant rally or Klan meeting, individuals find hate online."

* Name has been changed

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 06 July 2009 issue of the New Statesman, HOWZAT!