Cricket world shocked by...The racist of Oz
South African and Australian cricket authorities are horrified at a former Australian test player's use of the k-word and derision of Muslims in a racist rant on the first day of the test series between the two countries.
And Greg Ritchie drew former South African player Kepler Wessels into the row when he told an audience of about 250 during lunch at the Brisbane Cricket Ground: "Hey, Kepler, you're not going to call this lot k*****s today, are you?"
An upset Wessels yesterday denied he was present when Ritchie said this, and labelled the comments "disgraceful".
Ritchie made the comment during an anecdote about the Frank Worrell Trophy series between the West Indies and Australia in 1983/84 in which both Ritchie and Wessels played for Australia. It is unclear what the substance of the anecdote was.
Ritchie's comments were received with raucous laughter by his audience and could be heard over public address system loudspeakers near the cricket ground's dining room.
During the speech Ritchie dropped several more bombshells, including offensive comments about Muslims, and said of ex-Pakistan captain and cricket great Imran Khan: "He's an absolute knob is Imran Khan. That's the only way to describe him."
Ritchie said: " I've got nothing against the Muslim people. Just this morning I had to try and stop three little Muslim boys trying to break the lock on my car boot. I had to say: 'Shut up! You're in there for a reason'."
As the crowd roared with laughter Ritchie appeared to realise he had crossed a line, saying: "You can't say that kind of thing, can you?"
On Pakistan he said: "There's a place in Pakistan called Lahore. There weren't many of them [whores] around when we were there in 1992, I can tell you."
The team's manager, Mohammed Moosajee, told the Sunday Times: "If that is what was uttered, it is both disappointing and despicable for someone to make these racist comments."
Wessels, who is in Brisbane as part of SuperSport's commentary team covering the series, yesterday threatened to take legal action over the comments.
"That's a disgraceful, offensive and libellous comment to make," he said.
"It's certainly not what I'm about and everyone who knows me will know that. I have no idea what he might be referring to - I haven't even spoken to him since the early 1980s."
Wessels moved to Australia during South Africa's apartheid-induced isolation from international cricket and played 24 tests for the country between 1982 and 1994, before coming home to play 16 more for South Africa.
Efforts to contact Ritchie - a freelance guest speaker and former commentator - proved fruitless.
This is not the first time the Proteas have been drawn into controversy over tasteless remarks. In 2006 commentator and ex-Australian player Dean Jones labelled Proteas top-order batsman Hashim Amla a "terrorist".
Yesterday Cricket Australia took a dim view of Ritchie's comments.
Its public affairs manager, Philip Pope, told the Sunday Times: "Naturally, we are concerned at the alleged comments made at the lunch, and we are seeking to understand the detail."
He said a senior official had contacted Ritchie "to understand the detail".
"But our general principle is that there is certainly no place for racism in sport."
Ritchie sprang to notoriety with his portrayal - in blackface and a turban - of a stereotypically Punjabi character called Mahatma Cote when he appeared on an Australian rugby league TV programme, The Footy Show.
But the relationship came to an end in 2003 when he became embroiled in an altercation with a spectator at a match.
In 1997 he was suspended from his job as a Channel Nine commentator for racially abusing an Ansett Airlines employee.
Ritchie was arrested on his arrival in Los Angeles in 2006 for allegedly interfering with the crew on his flight. He was released after being questioned by the FBI.