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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Australia cricket star Usman Khawaja claims racial abuse growing up

Batsman, who immigrated as child, reveals hurdles he crossed to become Australia's first Pakistan-born national player

Australia's Usman Khawaja says it was an intimidating environment to play cricket. William West / AFP
Australia's Usman Khawaja says it was an intimidating environment to play cricket. William West / AFP

Australia batsman Usman Khawaja has revealed he was racially abused so much growing up that he refused to support the national side, and claimed "racism" once played a role in selections for the team.

The 30-year-old top-order batsman, who immigrated as a child, battled the odds to become Australia's first Pakistan-born national player and is now established as one of the country's leading Test batsmen.

But it was not an easy journey, and Khawaja wrote on the playersvoice.com.au website that he was vilified over his race from a young age, making him resent Australian sporting teams.

"Getting sledged by opposition players and their parents was the norm. Some of them said it just quietly enough for only me to hear," he wrote on the website, where sportspeople can air their views.

"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."

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The abuse ultimately made him stronger, but Khawaja said it was an intimidating environment to play the game he loved.

He said he was brought up to be humble and polite "but when I watched the Aussie team, I saw men who were hard-nosed, confident, almost brutish".

"The same type of men who would sledge me about my heritage growing up," he added.

As he got older, he said Australia also grew up and "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.

"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."

At one point Khawaja was the only Asian first-class player in Australia, something he attributed to his strong-willed family.

"It's no surprise it has taken Australia cricket so long for coloured players to come through the system," he said. "There is no doubt racism and politics played a large role in selections in the past.

"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 said Australian cricket and society have come a long way and it is now easier for cricketers from all backgrounds to come through the system.

But he is reluctant to take any credit for opening doors.

"Maybe it was inevitable with the growing multicultural community in Australia. Maybe it was a few friendly faces at the highest level. We will never know," he said.