For the last two days, Bangladesh batsman Tamim Iqbal has been the unfortunate focus of news that transcends sport and enters the realm of race relations in a global climate already toxic with intolerance. It was learnt on the night of July 11 that Tamim, who was in England with his wife and one-year-old son for an eight-match commitment to county side Essex Eagles for the Natwest T20 Blast, had cut his stay short after one match because of an attempted hate crime the previous night in Stratford.
Hours before news of the attempted hate crime was intimated to this newspaper and a Bengali daily by a source close to the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB), Essex, on their website, had released a statement saying that Tamim had chosen to go home because of 'personal reasons' and that 'it would be appreciated if Tamim's privacy is respected during this time'. Yesterday morning after news of the attack broke, presumably when Tamim was in transit on his way back, he posted the following message on Facebook:
"I want all my fans and well wishers to know that I cut short my season with Essex to come back home early for personal reasons. Some media reported that we were the target of attempted hate crime. This is really not true. England is one of my favourite places to play cricket and Essex have been entirely gracious even though I had to leave early. I thank all my fans and well wishers for their concern and messages and look forward to going back to England for future matches."
Despite Tamim's message, after further information gathering there has been no reason to doubt the veracity of the information this newspaper received, which was corroborated further by a report on ESPNCricinfo which said that "a nervous Tamim reported an altercation to Essex Cricket on Monday, the day after his debut in a NatWest Blast match against Kent at Beckenham, and asked that his contract be terminated so the family could return to Bangladesh."
It has also been learnt that he informed BCB of his intention to return the day following the alleged attack. After his return to Bangladesh yesterday evening, he told The Daily Star over phone: "My Facebook status is true and I request everyone to respect mine and my family's privacy."
If, according to mounting evidence and corroboration, the attempted attack is taken as fact, the picture that emerges is of severe mishandling on the part of Essex, the BCB and to a lesser extent Tamim himself. For the record, the incident in question was a group of miscreants chasing Tamim, his wife Ayesha Siddiqa -- who wears a hijab -- and their toddler when they had gone out to dinner.
In the aftermath of such an incident, assuming it happened, it is very puzzling why one of the victims (Tamim) and his temporary employers in England (Essex County Cricket Club) chose not to report the incident to law enforcement while his permanent employers in Bangladesh (BCB) failed to persuade him to do so. Instead, Essex issued a misleading statement on their website and Tamim flatly denied it while the BCB took the strange step of informing the media while not presenting a united front and issuing a press release, which is the usual course of action in such matters.
Among the three, least culpable is of course Tamim -- as one of the victims he cannot be expected to think rationally so soon after the event. Even if he was unwilling to report the incident, whatever his justification for that stance, it fell first to Essex and then the BCB to take the correct course of action and pursue the matter with law enforcement.
As said earlier, if the reports are true this is not sports news but another incident in a growing narrative of hate crimes against Muslims in England. If true, it would also have been an event that greatly endangered the safety of a prominent Bangladeshi in a foreign country. As such, the 'privacy' that Essex so disingenuously asked to be protected becomes secondary to the actual pursuance of legal avenues to bring the perpetrators to task.
It also may be mentioned that any endangerment of foreign players in Bangladesh becomes international news. The West Indies team bus being pelted with stones when they left the Mirpur stadium after a game against Bangladesh during the 2011 World Cup received worldwide coverage and condemnation, and rightly so. It helped to address problems in security and crowd behaviour in Bangladesh; there is no reason that the same is now not true of England.
As for the BCB, this response is not new. In New Zealand earlier this year, instead of reporting the illegal pitch watering during the match in Wellington to the ICC, the matter was litigated in the media.
They had received news of the event involving Tamim yesterday morning, but not only failed to convince Tamim of the need to report the incident and put out a clear press release, but created a scenario that will have only increased the pain for Tamim and his family.