Can Caribbean cricket get its (political) groove back?

Adnan Hossain, University of Amsterdam

Caribbean cricket fans were dismayed in early June when, for the first time since the ICC Champions Trophy started in 1998, the West Indies Cricket Team did not qualify for this prestigious international competition, which recently concluded in England and Wales.

Winner of the Champions Trophy in 2004 and of the 1975 and 1979 World Cups, the West Indies squad is now at risk of not qualifying for the upcoming World Cup cricket competition in 2019.

Cricket lovers are struggling to understand the decline of the West Indies team, which is composed of athletes from 15 countries, British dependencies and other Caribbean territories, including Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Jamaica and Barbados.

In this region of the world, cricket has never been just a sport. In the 20th century struggle against British domination, cricket was central to the Caribbean’s anticolonial independence project.

Today, my 2015 research in Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago found, its meaning has changed. For poor young men, international cricket is often seen as a way out of poverty and into the lap of luxury.

Liberation cricket

Originally introduced by British colonisers in the 19th century as an exclusively white male-dominated imperial sport, cricket quickly drew Afro-Caribbean players.

Afro-Caribbeans were allowed to join the West Indies Cricket Team in 1900, and by the 1940s they were numerically dominant. In 1960, an Afro-Caribbean man, Frank Worrell, became the first black captain of the West Indies Cricket Team.

Sir Frank Worrell, far right, in 1961.
The National Archive of Australia/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

 

A similar quest for belonging spurred the cricketing aspirations of Caribbeans of Indian descent, whose relatives had been brought to the region as indentured laborers after the abolition of slavery in 1834.

Indo-Caribbean players, who are now closely identified with cricket, especially in Guyana and Trinidad, also originally saw the sport as a vehicle for affirming an Indo-Caribbean identity.

Caribbean cricket narratives and histories tend to focus on the sport’s association with anti-colonial resistance and the efflorescence of a unified West Indian consciousness against the white planter class – what’s often called liberation cricket.

A Guyanese athlete in Trinidad

But contemporary Caribbean cricket is something quite different. Over the past two decades, globalisation and commercialisation of the sport have largely undone its political underpinnings.

The new story of cricket takes the form of Sukdeo Sisnarine, a 23-year-old aspiring Guyanese cricketer who plays in a Trinidadian domestic cricket league.

More than just a sport. Adnan Hossain, Author provided

 

Sukdeo was connected to a cricket club through former players and arrived in Trinidad for his first stint after only a telephone conversation with a manager of the club, a common international recruitment practice in Trinidad.

Now he migrates to Trinidad from January to June each year to play. When I met him in a cricket club in 2015, it was his third sojourn there.

Guyanese are the largest group of overseas athletes playing in the Trinidadian cricket league; in 2015, nearly 25 of the 30 international players were from Guyana (the league has between one hundred or so cricketers in total).

Though geographically located in South America, Guyana is culturally Caribbean, and it is one of the poorest economies in the region, with an estimated per capita GDP of US$7,900 in 2016.

In contrast, Trinidad is one of the Caribbean’s richest countries. Last year, its estimated GDP per person was US$31,900.

For cricketers from poorer Caribbean countries like Guyana, Trinidad’s semi-professional cricket league offers financial opportunities. Guyanese athletes can play competitive cricket while earning some extra money on the side.

Caribbean cricketers practicing in a Trinidadian cricket club. Adnan Hossain, Author provided

 

When I knew him, Sukdeo was working in a car parts factory next to the cricket club he played for. He estimated his total earnings that season at about US$5,000.

This income allowed him to buy and do things that would have been impossible in Guyana, like going to the movies, purchasing designer sunglasses and choosing brand-name clothing.

Guyanese as the “small Islanders”

Such consumer pleasures can come at a cost.

In Trinidad, the Guyanese are often portrayed as backwards, and people routinely mock the way they speak English, though they are native speakers. “Small islanders”, they’re called. Guyana is not an island, of course, let alone a small one. In Trinidad, this odd diminutive serves as a metaphor for the country’s poverty.

The economic disparity between the two countries produces social hierarchies, with Guyanese cricketers, as well as other male economic migrants, often seen in Trinidad as unwanted fortune-seekers.

This stereotype to some extent reflects the reality that for Sukdeo and many other young men I met in Trinidad, cricket is not so much a passion or a political statement as it is a professional pathway to wealth, conspicuous consumption and international travel – all signs of success in this neoliberal world.

Trinidadian club managers and owners routinely recruit their Guyanese athletes to play for cricket leagues in Canada and the United States. In 2015, Sukdeo obtained visa sponsorship from a cricket club in Canada, allowing him to travel out of the Caribbean for the first time in his life.

Trinidad thus serves as a jumping-off point for Caribbean athletes who hope to emigrate, helping them to connect with the Caribbean diaspora in North America. In the US alone, there are an estimated 4 million Caribbean immigrants.

Neoliberal cricket

Still, Sukdeo didn’t want to be in Trinidad or in Canada for that matter. He wanted to be recruited for the Indian Premier League (IPL), the most expensive cricket franchise in the world since its inception in 2008.

The IPL, which changed the format of the game to shorten day-long matches, boasts massive injections of corporate capital, Bollywood-star team owners, foreign cheerleaders and world-calibre cricketers. It has radically repackaged cricket as high-paced glamorous entertainment.

Prior to the IPL, players from the West Indies Cricket Team – politically-minded men like Sir Vivian Richards and Clive Lloyd – were the role models for aspiring young Caribbean cricketers like Sukdeo.

Today, it’s the lavish lifestyle of IPL athletes that most appeal.

Once a site for anti-colonial resistance and consolidation of a West Indian identity, contemporary Caribbean cricket is devoid of such political connotations.

This paradigmatic shift may account for the sad state of the West Indies cricket team this year. It seems that neoliberal cricket just can’t compete with the liberation cricket of yore.


The ConversationThis article was written as part of the GLOBALSPORT project funded by the European Research Council and based at the University of Amsterdam.

Adnan Hossain, Postdoctoral fellow, University of Amsterdam

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

There’s not enough evidence to back the claim that humans originated in Europe

Julien Benoit, University of the Witwatersrand

Africa is not the cradle of humankind: that’s the claim by a group of scientists who’ve just published what they describe as evidence of pre-human remains found in Eastern Europe (Greece and Bulgaria). The fossils in question belong to Graecopithecus freybergi, and are a little more than seven million years old. This would make them the world’s oldest hominin fossils.

It would also re-root the human evolutionary tree in Eastern Europe, away from Africa. This runs counter to a great deal of evidence which suggests that humans originated in Africa.

Dr Julien Benoit, a vertebrate palaeontologist and palaeobiologist who has worked extensively on the African continent and was not part of the European research team, chatted to The Conversation Africa about the findings.

This new research suggests that Greece, not Africa, should be calling itself the cradle of humankind. Do you think that’s accurate?

Extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence to support them. The African origin of humankind (Hominini) is currently supported by two really important elements.

Firstly, thousands of hominin fossils have been found on African soil since the first fossil African hominin, Australopithecus africanus, was discovered in South Africa in 1924.

Nearly a century of fossil findings has followed, chronicling the complete evolution of hominin on African soil. These fossils range from the Sahelanthropus, which lived between six and seven million years ago in what is today Chad, to the earliest Homo sapiens from east Africa.

Secondly, our closest ape relatives, the Chimpanzees and the Gorilla are also from Africa. Our last common ancestors lived somewhere between eight and 12 million years ago, which strongly suggests that the origin of humankind is deeply rooted in Africa. This leave little room for a putative European origin.

Any study that counters this consensus would have to provide very strong evidence and perfect methodology to support its claim. In my opinion, this article doesn’t meet those criteria.

Why not?

For starters, the material isn’t well preserved. It consists mostly of a jaw with no complete teeth preserved. That’s a problem because the teeth’s anatomical characteristics are the most important element when classifying any primate, including humans.

The authors claim that the jaw’s fourth premolar root is similar to that of a hominin’s. This is not a character that is conventionally used in palaeoanthropology, especially because not all hominins have similar tooth roots. This character is rather variable – and the authors go on to acknowledge this – so it’s unreliable for classification.

They also argue that the small size of the incomplete canine tooth (as suggested by the size of its root) would put this fossil close to hominin ancestry. This is based on the assumption that hominins are the only apes with small canines. This, again, is not true. In Europe, where apes have a very rich fossil record, there’s an ape called Oreopithecus which has small canines but is not related to humans at all.

This is an example of independent, parallel evolution: when one species evolves similarities to another without being related to it. For instance, dolphins look like fish, but they’re not. This is probably the same thing for Graecopithecus and hominins.

I agree with many of my colleagues, who think that this new jaw represents an Ape species that is not related to humans. It might belong to a species like Oreopithecus, which evolved human-like features – such as the fusion of the fourth premolar roots and small canines – in parallel to our lineage.

Finally, the study is lacking a phylogenetic analysis. This is a statistical method used to reconstruct a reliable evolutionary tree. To say that a fossil species is an early hominin without performing this kind of analysis is like giving the result of an equation without actually doing the maths.

What sort of further research and clarification is needed to confirm or debunk this theory of European origins?

A phylogenetic analysis is crucial. This is a way to reconstruct the evolutionary tree of species and to address the hypotheses of any relationship between them.

It will allow scientists to assess this fossil jaw’s real position in the evolutionary tree of Primates and to actually test if the similarities observed between Graecopithecus and hominins were acquired independently or were inherited from a real common ancestor.

And if their claim turns out to be true, would that mean we need to totally rewrite history?

The theory that humankind originated in Europe is an old one. It was abandoned after 1924 when the first Australopithecus was discovered in South Africa.

Since then, thousands of fossils have been found around Africa that strongly support the “African origins” hypothesis. Even if this new fossil actually turns out to be a hominin, it would only be an outlier – like a drop in the ocean. It would change very few things, because much more and far better preserved material would be necessary to totally disprove the African origin of humankind.

The ConversationIt would open a brand new area of research, but would not change textbooks.

Julien Benoit, Postdoc in Vertebrate Palaeontology, University of the Witwatersrand

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.