People must be allowed the space to change – but offensive tweets, however old, cannot be ignored

·3-min read
<p>Ollie Robinson’s England debut was marred when old tweets came to light</p> (PA Wire)

Ollie Robinson’s England debut was marred when old tweets came to light

(PA Wire)

The latest skirmish in the “culture wars” that have become an important touchstone for the government is around England cricketer Ollie Robinson’s appalling historic tweets.

The posts, written when Robinson was aged 18 and 19, are racist and sexist – of that there is no doubt. The culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, made that clear in his tweet following the news that Robinson has been dropped from the England team pending an investigation.

However, there is a “but”.

“They are also a decade old and written by a teenager,” Dowden added. “The teenager is now a man and has rightly apologised. The ECB [England Cricket Board] has gone over the top by suspending him and should think again.”

There is an argument that 18 is old enough to know far better, considering all of the other things you are legally allowed to do at that age – including vote. Did Dowden really expect the ECB to let things pass? We have all likely said things on the internet we may later come to regret – and more education for younger people about the issues around posting on such sites should be looked at. And yes, everyone has to the capacity to change and educate themselves and should be allowed the space to do so, although some have questioned what “education” means in the case of Robinson.

But what action should the ECB take, if not at least this? A removal from the team while an investigation is carried out make sense not only from the narrower sporting standpoint, so that it is not a distraction to team, but also in the far more important context of the wider need for action over attitudes to race and gender.

Robinson has exhibited contrition and that was needed. But it is deeds, not just words that are required. The ECB is in the same boat. What if it had dismissed the tweets as a relic of the past and moved on? They would be showing the same disregard that many others have for an issue that needs real work.

I’ll be clear: an investigation is the bare minimum of what is required and you would hope that the ECB would take the opportunity to provide details of broader action across the game to deal with racism.

For all those like Dowden, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who supported the culture secretary’s remarks, who believe this has “gone too far”, this is only a correction of the fact that for too long things didn’t go far enough. Players, supporters and all those connected with cricket deserve to feel comfortable watching the sport they love. To purely issue a slap on the wrist via a wishy-washy statement would have been avoiding an issue that should not be ignored.

If dropping Robinson helps someone else consider their own actions and seek to modify them in future, then that can only be a good thing. And if Robinson himself has grown in the way he says he has since those messages were posted, then such a change is also important.

Yes, the reaction by the ECB may seem tough to some. But the alternative is much worse.

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