Australia batsman Usman Khawaja has revealed that he was racially abused so much growing up in Sydney that he led to support other countries rather than the national side.
The 30-year-old, who was born in Pakistan, moved to Australia with his parents and two older brothers when he was just a 5-year-old. He went on to become Australia’s first Pakistan-born national player and has now established himself as one of the country’s leading Test batsmen.
Talking about the struggle he faced growing up, Khawaja revealed how racial abuse was widespread on the playing field, during his junior days, while also blaming racial discrimination for curtailing the sporting ambitions of a number of his overseas-born players.
“Getting sledged by opposition players and their parents was the norm. Some of them said it just quietly enough for only me to hear,” Sport24 quoted Khawaja, as saying.
“It still hurt, but I would never show it. Most of the time it was when I scored runs. It is for this reason why so many of my friends, most of whom were born outside Australia, didn’t support Australia in sporting contests. I didn’t either,” he added.
Khawaja insisted that he was brought up to be humble and polite, but he found Australian players to be hard-nosed, confident, almost brutish.
“The same type of men who would sledge me about my heritage growing up. I started to understand that the minority of Australians who did treat me this way were just that, a minority. By High School, I was a diehard Australian team supporter. But, from a pathways perspective, the damage had been done,” he revealed.
“Not to me, but to some of the other immigrant kids, who potentially could have gone on to play for Australia. They chose not to pursue a dream because of the negative experiences they had endured,” Khawaja elaborated.
However, Khawaja, who made his Australian debut in the 2011 Sydney Test, said that the thinking and mindset of Australia changed radically as time passed.
“It’s no surprise it has taken Australia cricket so long for coloured players to come through the system. There is no doubt racism and politics played a large role in selections in the past,” he said.
“I’ve heard a few stories from past Anglo-Saxon players where this seems to be the case. It would just be the times that they lived in,” Khawaja concluded.