A dispute between the Australian and Indian cricket teams over an alleged racist slur won't damage diplomatic relations between the two nations, Australia's Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said.
India's cricket authorities are appealing a three-match ban on spin bowler Harbhajan Singh for allegedly calling Andrew Symonds, Australia's only black player, a ``monkey.'' The dispute may result in India cutting short its tour in Australia.
``Cricket has its ups and downs,'' Smith told reporters yesterday when asked about the dispute. He stressed his government is intent on pursuing stronger ties with India.
India is Australia's fastest-growing major goods export market, increasing at more than 34 percent a year over the past five years, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra. Australia last year agreed to supply uranium to the South Asian nation, subject to a civilian nuclear energy accord between the U.S. and India being completed.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India ``will fight the blatantly false and unfair slur on an Indian player,'' Niranjan Singh, honorary secretary of the Indian board, said in a statement yesterday.
Indian cricket captain Anil Kumble accused Australia of unsportsmanlike conduct after his team's loss in the second Test match in Sydney two days ago. Australia and India are playing a four-Test series with the third scheduled to begin Jan. 16.
``I don't see any problems in the relationship arising from the Test series,'' Smith told reporters in the western city of Perth, according to a transcript. ``Australia needs to place greater emphasis on its relationship with India. In the course of this century, the emergence of India as a very significant power, the largest democracy, its relationship with Australia is very important.''
Australia's trade in goods with India reached A$11.4 billion ($9.9 billion) in 2006-07, making India its ninth largest trading partner, according to government figures.
Japan is Australia's biggest trading partner, with trade worth A$54.9 billion in 2006. China is the second-biggest, with the relationship worth A$41.3 billion in 2006.
Prime Minister John Howard's government, which was ousted in the Nov. 24 election after 11 years in office, pursued closer ties with India. It signed an accord in 2006 on defense cooperation and an economic framework agreement focusing on energy, mining, infrastructure development, tourism, education, entertainment and bio-technology.
``Australia and India, both through cricket and generally, will continue to have a very warm, friendly and strong relationship,'' Smith said.