Australian PM rebuffs Cricket Australia over Jan 26 plans

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Cricket Australia has run afoul of the country’s prime minister for refusing to refer to the national holiday in the marketing of three matches on Jan. 26 after a recommendation from its Indigenous advisory committee.

Australia Day is held annually on Jan. 26, the anniversary of the day in 1788 when Captain Arthur Phillip guided a fleet of 11 British ships carrying convicts into Botany Bay in what is now Sydney.

Citizenship ceremonies, parades, festivals and barbecues are held in cities and towns around the country on the date, but there are also protests and demonstrations.

Many in Australia’s Indigenous community refer to it as “Invasion Day,” and the start of persecution and hardships at the hands of colonizers and later federal and state governments. There’s long been public debate over finding an alternative date to celebrate the national holiday.

Three Twenty20 matches in Australia’s Big Bash League are scheduled for Jan. 26, and Cricket Australia’s National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cricket Advisory Committee recommended the day simply be referred to as January 26 instead of Australia Day.

“A bit more focus on cricket and a little less focus on politics would be my message to Cricket Australia,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a radio station Thursday in Rockhampton, central Queensland state. “I think that’s pretty ordinary.”

On Jan. 26, one match is scheduled for Adelaide Oval and the other two at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Three BBL teams will also wear Indigenous-design jerseys in matches on or leading up to the day. A barefoot circle, welcome to country and smoking ceremony conducted by Aboriginal people will take place before some games.

“They thought it was pretty important to not remove cultural elements we have celebrated all season on a day like that,” Cricket Australia’s diversity and inclusion manager Adam Cassidy told Australian Associated Press.

Mel Jones, a former international cricketer who is a Cricket Australia director and co-chair of its Indigenous advisory committee, said Morrison’s comments would not change the group’s position.

“Everyone is going to have an opinion on this as they do for a variety of different things,” Jones told the Australian Associated Press. “The recommendations put forward we know is a value-driven thing about making cricket as inclusive as we can. This isn’t a tokenistic ‘let’s grab a headline.’ This is just our day-to-day workings.”

Jones said it was not meant to be seen as a divisive or political move, and was more about being inclusive.

“I think what we’ve tried to embrace is embracing the uncomfortable conversation,” Jones said.’ “We’re happy to have those hard conversations, we know they’re not easy. But if we don’t have them, then nothing is going to change.”

Sydney Thunder pace bowler Brendan Doggett, who has Indigenous heritage, is firmly behind the plans for Jan. 26.

“I hate conflict. So I am of the opinion if we can all merge forward together that’s ideal,” Doggett said. “The way we’re going to do that is by starting conversations and talking about it and acknowledging the history of what’s happened.”

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