‘You can’t just walk past’ racist comments from sportsmen, Sir Keir Starmer says

·3 min read

Authorities “can’t just walk past” evidence of offensive or racist social media posts, however old, Sir Keir Starmer has said.

On the Call Keir slot on LBC on Monday, the Labour leader said the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) “had to take action” against cricketer Ollie Robinson over racist and sexist tweets despite them being almost a decade old.

The 27-year-old has been suspended from all international cricket pending the outcome of a disciplinary investigation into the posts.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden previously criticised the decision to suspend Robinson, saying the tweets were “offensive and wrong, they’re also a decade old and written by a teenager”.

Sir Keir said: “I haven’t seen all of the stuff that (Robinson) put out but from what I’ve seen, it is the sort of stuff that can’t be tolerated in any circumstances and I think the cricket board had to take action.

“I acknowledge it was a while ago but when things are that offensive and racist I think action has to be taken and I wouldn’t interfere with the cricket board.”

He added: “You can’t just walk past that sort of thing, and action has to be taken.”

Sir Keir also refused to criticise a group of Oxford students who reportedly voted to remove a picture of the Queen from their common room.

The motion was apparently launched to make members “feel welcome”, with one student said to have commented “patriotism and colonialism are not really separable”.

“I wouldn’t have voted for it or had anything to do with it,” Sir Keir said.

“I don’t agree with it, I wouldn’t have done it, but in the end, I guess, students are allowed to decide what they want hanging in their common room.”

The controversial statue of colonialist Cecil Rhodes at Oriel College, University of Oxford (Steve Parsons/PA)
The controversial statue of colonialist Cecil Rhodes at Oriel College, University of Oxford (Steve Parsons/PA)

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson branded the decision to remove the portrait “simply absurd” when the news broke last week.

But Sir Keir said: “I think it’s quite something for us to say ‘you can’t decide for yourself what is in your own common room’.”

But he had less patience with Oxford dons threatening to boycott tutorials following a decision by Oriel College not to remove a statue of imperialist Cecil Rhodes, telling them to “get on with the job”.

More than 100 academics are refusing requests from Oriel College to give tutorials to the college’s undergraduates as they oppose its association with a statue that “glorifies colonialism”.

They have also pledged not to assist Oriel College with its outreach work and admissions interviews, and they will refuse to attend or speak at talks, seminars and conferences sponsored by the college.

The Labour leader told the academics: “Get on with the job of teaching people.”

Speaking to LBC news, he said: “Let’s get our feet back firmly on the ground, and teach the students.

“Students have been through hell in the last 18 months, you know – cooped up in flats,” Sir Keir said.

“Quite often all of them have got Covid because they’ve given it to one another.”

He added: “I think they have been amongst the hardest hit in the last 18 months.”

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