England cricketers Ben Stokes and Alex Hales have been indefinitely suspended from international duty and placed under police and ECB investigations after a fracas on a night out following an ODI victory over the West Indies in Bristol on Sunday 24th September.
Unverified footage released by The Sun shows a man, believed to be Stokes, repeatedly aiming punches at two others, knocking both to the ground, as trouble spilled from a pavement onto the road. All appear to be intoxicated.
It is not clear whether Hales, who had been out with Stokes in Bristol, appears in the footage or was present when the incident occurred, but he is thought to have assisted local police with their enquiries. Stokes was arrested in the early hours of the Monday morning under suspicion of causing actual bodily harm and neither player featured in the two remaining ODIs against the West Indies in which England wrapped up a 4-0 series whitewash.
A man’s facial injuries from the scuffle required hospital treatment while Stokes suffered a fractured right-hand in the brawl which is not thought to be serious.
Stokes’ injury, coupled with his ECB suspension, casts doubts over his involvement in the upcoming Ashes series which begins next month in Australia. The all-rounder faces an anxious wait to see whether the police investigation will be concluded and his internal ban lifted before the first test starts on the 23rd November.
The incident has reignited a long-running debate about the level of freedom which should be given to sportspeople in their private lives. In the modern era of paparazzi journalism, social media and good-quality mobile phone recordings, it is easier than ever for sportspersons’ misdemeanours to be captured and spread quickly.
In December 2015, then-Norwich goalkeeper John Ruddy made tabloid headlines after The Sun obtained footage of him involved in an altercation at a taxi rank in the Tombland area of the city.
The England international was not arrested and regained his place in the Canaries’ starting lineup later that season, but came under fire from fans for the timing of the incident which occurred after the stopper had lost his spot in the team to Declan Rudd following a dip in form.
Stokes and Hales are not the first England cricketers to be criticised for their off-field antics. In August 2013, Monty Panesar was arrested for allegedly urinating on bouncers after being ejected from a Brighton nightclub, which led to his release by Sussex. However, he went on to continue his county career after a struggle with mental illness.
Ruddy and Panesar are just two of a number of high-profile sporting figures who have seen their reputations damaged by private scandal. However, like most sportspeople disgraced in this way, their misdemeanours alone have not spelled the end of their careers.
While some fans argue that players under contract to their club, or in the case of Stokes and Hales, their national association, have an obligation to respect their fans and represent their team with utmost professionalism even when not on duty, others argue that what players do outside of the stadium and training ground should be of little concern to those who pay their wages.
Twenty-six-year-old Stokes, who is England’s test vice-captain, and twenty-eight-year-old Hales have seen their central contracts renewed despite remaining out of contention for their country until investigations into the incident are concluded. Both players have been offered new England contracts, despite their suspension.