West Indies players kneel in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in July 2020. PHOTO: Martin Rickett/Pool via Reuters;
Cricket South Africa (CSA) missed an opportunity to show their full support for an anti-racism campaign when they played Sri Lanka in December last year and they can't afford to do so again.
South Africa will play two tests and a limited over series against the West Indies, a team that has been one of the most vocal for their support of the Black Lives Matters (BLM) movement, while the SA cricket team have been non-committal at best and embarrassing at worst. The Proteas have already let one opportunity to show support slip through their grasp. Given our historical and political context, we need to be amongst those who show support for such a movement.
When the Proteas played Sri Lanka in a series in December 2020, they opted to raise their fists instead of taking the knee. Prior to the series, CSA released a statement: "We feel it is important to note that while American football quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, is now known for initiating the gesture of taking the knee, he began his protest by sitting during the singing of the USA's anthem. His decision to move toward taking the knee was a response to his context and a desire to own a gesture that had deep significance in the USA political environment.
"In the same vein as Kaepernick, we would like to use our sporting platform to raise awareness around an issue that matters deeply in this historical moment. We want to do so in a way that unites us around a gesture we own, which speaks to and resonates in our South African context, and which is connected to our own history of struggle for human rights."
This statement seemed odd at the time and still doesn't read well. They even threw in the very complex issue of gender-based violence into the matter. This diluted the message. There was a lack of leadership from CSA on the issue, when a frank and honest conversation was desperately needed.
The statement also came after teams like England and the West Indies both took the knee last year. It really does feel like a missed opportunity from our side to show support for the movement. This was also despite players such as Lungi Ngidi, Kagiso Rabada and Rassie van der Dussen being pretty vocal of their support for the BLM movement. Proteas legend Hashim Amla also came out in support in a social media post.
Given our historical context and the legacy of Apartheid, we should be leading the conversation on the issue. A context where many players were excluded from representing the national team based on the colour of their skin during Apartheid.
Yes, some might argue that the symbol of taking the knee has lost its power and it should be more than just talk. The English football team have taken the bold decision to take the knee at the UEFA Euros 2021 tournament despite being booed by some of their own fans for it. The symbol itself is still powerful and the very least that teams can do to show that they are anti-racism.
Ahead of today's game, our players will once again take the knee as a show of solidarity with the Black community, including members of our squad who themselves continue to suffer abuse on a regular basis.— England (@England) June 6, 2021
Please support them, just as we know you will once the game begins. pic.twitter.com/muTvAFeCix
It is also not so simple to say "let's not mix politics and sport" as some have argued. When players were excluded from the Proteas based on their race, none of the former Proteas players said "politics and sports shouldn't mix".
We have also seen the impact that Lebron James and other star names in the NBA have had in their support of the BLM movement. We have even seen this impact of players in the English Premier League taking the knee to start an important conversation.
When England and the West Indies took the knee, it sparked one of the most memorable moments in TV last year. Former West Indies fast bowler Michael Holding gave a passionate speech about the need to educate society about racism. The campaign is just the start of it, he said, but society needs to change.
"History is written by the conqueror and not by those who have been conquered. History is written by those who do harm. They keep on telling me there's nothing called white privilege, give me a break," he said.
Now the Proteas are preparing to face the West Indies, a team that has reiterated their support for the BLM movement, in a series starting today. So the question is, will the Proteas do the same – or will they drop the ball on the issue yet again?