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Sydney Targets Racist Cricket Fans

A crackdown on racist abuse by unruly Australian cricket fans has begun in Sydney. After Indian supporters complained of "offensive and ugly" chants during a test match in Melbourne just after Christmas, officials at the Sydney Cricket Ground have promised "zero tolerance" towards those who transgress the rules during the rest of the four-match series. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

Racial abuse of opposing players and supporters by Australian cricket fans is not widespread, but it occurs more than the cricket authorities here would like. South Africa complained of such treatment last year, and black cricketers have at times endured the indignity of having bananas thrown at them by spectators.

The authorities here in Sydney are determined to crack down on the bigots.

When the second of four test matches between Australia and India began Wednesday, restrictions were placed on the sale of full-strength beer, and undercover police officers are sitting in the grandstands along with an army of security guards. Their colleagues are monitoring the crowd of about 40,000 spectators with closed-circuit television cameras.

Fans at the Sydney Cricket Ground are also being urged to 'dob in a yob.' That is Aussie English for informing officials via text messages about any abuse they witness.

Some supporters - including this Australian-born Indian - say racist abuse at the cricket is a problem, but a small one.

"Yep, it happens from time to time - maybe once or twice," he said. "Few people say things like 'go back home' and 'what are you doing here if you don't support Australia'. No, you just laugh it off. Give something back."

A white Australian fan, however, maintains that the chants are only good-natured ribbing.

"People from outside might perceive Australians as racist, but it's just the Australian way to make fun of somebody, you know. It's not because we don't like them because of skin color or anything, it's just because we make fun of everybody. I make fun of myself. I'm an idiot, man. I don't care as long as someone else calls me that in good spirit, I don't mind, you know," said the fan.

Not everyone believes that. A television advertising campaign is urging fans to behave responsibly. Fines and life bans from cricket grounds could be imposed on those do not.

Officials here are especially worried that the Indian team might be taunted by the crowd. Black Australian player Andrew Symonds was subjected to racial epithets by Indian supporters during a recent match in Mumbai.