Cricket sets example by adding colour to cause

Cricket sets example by adding colour to cause
Australian cricketer Michael Clarke hands over a pink cap to Glenn McGrath (left) during a charity ceremony prior to the third day of the fifth Ashes cricket Test against England at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

SYDNEY - ON Sunday in Sydney to a field on which skill was painted and where sweat darkened the grass came a luminous and incongruous tribe of thousands. In a sporting world where we routinely divide ourselves according to the hue of football shirts and proclaim identity through the shade of our team scarfs, their unity was announced through a single colour.

Quite appropriately, in a stadium which can be occasionally overloaded with testosterone, most wore clothes of a perfectly feminine complexion.

Pink.

On this Sunday at Sydney Cricket Ground, in a gesture more profound than any athletic activity, pink represented breast cancer awareness. This was like no other sporting day, almost anywhere, and it was born from tragedy but has become a day of both cause and celebration.

It began with the death of a vibrant woman, Jane McGrath, 42, from breast cancer, and has been turned into a mission by her husband, the great Australian fast bowler Glenn McGrath.

An early idea - to enlighten a public and raise funds for breast care nurses for people especially in rural areas - has become an Australian cricket tradition which is in its sixth year. In stark figures, A$5 million has been raised through cricket activities, 25,000 families helped and with 100 specialist nurses they are quickly approaching their target of 150.

Symbolism is not foreign to sport where teams huddle behind Fight Racism banners and black armbands can signal varied protests. But this Sydney call to wear pink on Jane McGrath Day - the third day of the Test match - was not restricted to occasional ribbons that are proudly worn yet barely visible among the throng. This was a stadium turned into an informed flock of flamingos.

The stumps were pink and so were the sightscreens. Two Sikhs wore pink turbans, a fellow who you'd avoid on a dark night was wrapped in a pink singlet, a statue at the ground was wrapped in a pink scarf. A man carried a pink balloon, a baby wore pink booties, beer drinkers stood in pink wigs.

Pink was everywhere because so is the disease. According to Cancer Australia, "in 2010, breast cancer was the second leading cause of cancer-related death in Australian women" yet this cancer respects no national boundary nor singles out any economic class. In its spread among sisters and mothers, and aunts and wives, it rarely discriminates. It requires the collective fight and sport, for all its core lessons of "teamwork", is learning the wider implications of that word.

Sport sees itself as one, vast tribe, yet it rarely thinks as one. A team might wear a Unicef jersey and officials might offer over-sized cheques to charity and none of it can be diminished. Yet solidarity is not an athletic staple. Fans are mostly divided and teams arranged in conflict. Television thinks in the one-dimensional language of ratings and sports administrators view the world through glasses with dollar signs.

But Sydney was unique because sport demonstrated the muscular power of community. Pink was not colour but glue. Cricket Australia's staff wore pink shirts and sponsor logos stood out in pink. Channel Nine commentators wore pink blazers, spoke constantly of this day of pink and even a few of their TV graphics were tinged with pink.

In this belonging lay a beauty and in this solidarity was discovered a power. Sport is in the business of entertainment, yet together it was battling something beyond runs and wickets and rankings and bragging. The cricket, furious and unsentimental, was not diminished by the cause but elevated by it. There was winning in the air and yet also the idea of survival and both fit neatly.

Not every day of every sport needs to be turned into a noble exercise, yet for sporting organisations to not replicate this in some form is to ignore the truth of sport as an avenue of awareness.

If nothing else this Test match - which raised over S$680,000 - suggested that sport does not adequately appreciate its influence nor properly estimate its reach. As an activity, Test cricket - like football or tennis - is given life by a community of devoted watchers and now, by raising funds for this very community and beyond, it was returning something to them.

In a day of moving moments, one stood out. In the morning, a trail of players, Australian and English, went up to McGrath and his children to hand him their special baggy pink hats. All were autographed, all are up for auction. It was staged and ceremonial, yet as much as we accuse the modern athlete of self-indulgence here was an act of giving.

Athletes are schooled in hard competition and released onto a field like straining racehorses from a gate. To ask them to be spotless role models with choir boy halos is absurd, but to hope they will be adults who understand life and its complexities beyond their cocoons is reasonable.

And so when fast bowler Mitchell Johnson colours his fearsome moustache pink for a function, he is registering his awareness and advertising his compassion. A young man of shining health might live for the stark black and white of victory and defeat, yet he stands, too, for a colour even more meaningful.

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