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Ritchie falls from favour after 'racist' lunch speech

Greg Ritchie during his playing days on the 1985 Ashes tour.

Greg Ritchie during his playing days on the 1985 Ashes tour. Photo: Getty Images

FORMER Test batsman Greg Ritchie has defended himself against claims of racist and anti-Muslim comments at a Brisbane Test luncheon, refusing to apologise and saying: ''If they take offence that's their choice.''

The former Australian player and television personality was attacked for using the offensive ''K-word'' during a luncheon speech at the Brisbane Cricket Ground Trust members' dining room on day one of the first Test against South Africa on Friday. He also made disparaging remarks about Muslims, which he admitted to on Sunday, and called former Pakistan captain Imran Khan ''an absolute knob''.

''I've got nothing against the Muslim people,'' Ritchie told the Gabba lunch on Friday. ''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!'''

Greg Ritchie as Mahatma Cote.

Greg Ritchie as Mahatma Cote.

On Sunday, Ritchie told Fairfax Media: ''That's a joke that I use, and I'll continue to use it. It's just a little humorous joke to indicate that they're not the favourite people of my choice. If they take offence, that's their choice.''

Ritchie went on to say: ''I didn't f---ing come out and say I was outraged when some of their people flew planes into buildings, which was a lot worse than my f---ing joke.''

Ritchie also defended his use of the word ''kaffir''. ''Hey Kepler, you're not going to call this lot kaffirs today, are you,'' the Queenslander was reported as saying in reference to his former teammate Kepler Wessels, who in the 1980s could not play for his native South Africa because of the international ban. Wessels, in Australia as a commentator for SuperSport, threatened legal action, but Ritchie said his story had been misinterpreted.

''It's a joke I've used 500 times,'' Ritchie said. ''It's a reference to us playing against the West Indies [in a match for Queensland against the West Indies in 1980] and I say to him, 'You wouldn't use that word against these guys would you?' I am not saying that Kepler said that word at all.

''It is to emphasise the fear I had playing against the West Indies. It is a shocking term and it relays the great fear that we all had about facing the West Indies' bowling.

''[In the joke] I say to Kepler, 'Hey, I bet you never use a word like that against the West Indies would you?' I say it with a South African accent. I didn't say it's Kepler saying it. I'm saying, 'Geez, these would be the last kind of blokes South Africans would call that word to.' The story ends with me being knocked out by Andy Roberts and Kepler saying, 'Haha Porky,' I told you you could die today'.''

Ritchie said he would no longer use the joke when he appeared on the speaking circuit but was disappointed it had become an issue.

''I think the country is out of control in terms of political correctness. You can't say this, you can't say that. I'm a humorist, I use satire,'' he said. ''I've told that story 500 times and never had a problem with it. I'm not being disrespectful to anyone when I'm saying it.''

Cricket Australia had a different view, indicating Ritchie was not welcome at cricket grounds as a result of the speech but stopping short of an official ban. The 52-year-old also spoke at a Queensland Cricket luncheon in Brisbane last Wednesday and told the same story.

''Cricket Australia is of the view that it's not appropriate for Greg to be at our cricket venues at this time,'' a CA spokesman said. ''There is absolutely no place for racism in sport on or off the field. We're fully supportive of the ICC's anti-racism policy on cricket. A senior official from Cricket Australia has contacted Greg, who has confirmed the content of that speech. We've made it clear that his comments were absolutely unacceptable.''

South Africa team manager Mohammed Moosajee told Johannesburg's Sunday Times: ''If that is what was uttered, it is both disappointing and despicable for someone to make these racist comments.''

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