How not to celebrate: The story of how Essex’s Bob Willis Trophy victory quickly became showered in controversy

Picture the scene. You and your team have just won the inaugural Bob Willis Trophy; the most prestigious trophy available to you. Brimming with elation, you and your teammates walk onto the balcony to lift the trophy. What you’re not expecting, is an abuse of your religious views.

Yet, this is precisely what happened to Essex cricketer, Feroze Khushi, whose faith forbids him from having any contact with alcohol. As such, while his teammates had a celebratory beer, Khushi was trying to find the middle-ground between retreating from the alcohol, whilst also joining in the celebrations. He was doing rather well until his teammate thought fit to give him a beer shower.

Whilst probably fair to assume ignorance over malice, you have to question how this was even possible. Well, it’s complicated. When the Formula 1 circus is in Bahrain, they use non-alcoholic champagne. Yet at the Qatari World Cup, alcohol will be allowed in designated spaces. It begs the question which culture supersedes the other? The host? Or the guest?

Keeping in mind that Muslims overachieve in the English cricketing game (in relation to overall UK demographics), you would think that the players would be aware of something that is of such importance to their teammates. Additionally, given that the point of podium-based alcohol is the spraying rather than the drinking, surely non-alcoholic versions would do the job. The players have all night to drink following their victory; if they’re that upset about such a small loss in alcohol, they have bigger problems.

Insofar as accommodating religion in sport as a whole, diversity-wise, it’s doing alright. Sport is the ultimate meritocracy. If you’re no good, you won’t be played, if you play well, you’ll play again. In terms of the minor details that can prove so problematic to individuals, whilst more can be done by the various governing bodies, the onus seems to be on the awareness of players. For an excellent example, look no further than England’s 2019 cricket world cup winning side allowing Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali to slightly move to one side before beginning the champagne celebrations. It wasn’t hard then and it isn’t hard now.

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Chris Price

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January 2022
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