That was the subject headline of an email I received from South Africa’s pay channel earlier this week. The excitement was palpable. Live international cricket would be back on our television and laptop screens after a three-month hiatus due to the Covid-19 virus. It was a reason to celebrate.
But when the moment arrived at the Ageas Bowl for the two captains Ben Stokes and Jason Holder of England and West Indies respectively to walk out for the much-awaited toss we were greeted with the despairing sight of pitch covers and empty stands.
The lack of spectators was expected due to the safety precautions related to Covid-19, but the entire picture was anti-climatic. At this point many would have switched off their live feed and returned to their Zoom meeting.
They would have missed a great moment. Although the weather did not improve greatly with only 17.4 overs eventually possible throughout the day, Sky Sports – the host broadcaster – delivered arguably the most telling piece of sports broadcasting in years.
“If you don’t educate people, they’ll keep growing up in that sort of society and you’ll not get meaningful change.”
Michael Holding and @ejrainfordbrent say that institutionalised racism must be eradicated for the good of humanity. #BlackLivesMatter pic.twitter.com/TIpdAcdZJI
— Sky Sports Cricket (@SkyCricket)
July 8, 2020
It was a seminal moment in the game and should always be remembered. Not for the fact that England’s Dom Sibley was the first batsman to be dismissed after the Covid-19 break, but for a film featuring the life experiences of legendary West Indies fast bowler Michael Holding and former England Women’s captain Ebony Rainford-Brent.
Rainford-Brent’s tears pulled at the heart strings and stirred emotions deep within. It made me take a closer look at myself in the mirror.
Have I in any way – consciously or subconsciously – been racist towards anyone through my actions or speech? Have I judged someone purely on the basis of their skin colour?
Holding, who is now also a well-respected Sky pundit, continued the discussion live on air with his colleague Nasser Hussain. It was extraordinary viewing with Holding emotionally presenting factual evidence of society’s perception of black people and the way their achievements have been diluted in modern history.
It set the tone for a historic day with the West Indies and England teams delivering a further statement to the world about equality and the Black Lives Matter movement by taking a knee before the first ball was bowled.
The Windies wore black gloves on their right hands and raised them in salute similar to the protests made by the American sprinters John Carlos and Tommie Smith as they stood on the podium at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico. The visitors also hung the Black Lives Matter flag from their dressing room balcony.
Hussain was equally rousing alongside Holding. England’s only male Test captain of Asian descent articulated the abuse he received “from both sides” while coming through the English cricket system. Hussain stated it was an issue that society could no longer suppress.
“People will be tuning in and saying: ‘Not this again’,” he said. “All I’ll say to those people who say ‘not again’ is that a few weeks ago I watched a black man being killed in front of my eyes on Channel 4 news, and my natural reaction was to look away. Next time that footage came on, I forced myself to watch because I felt something inside of myself say: ‘You’ve been looking away too long.’”
Hussain’s comments are pertinent in a local context, especially after I ironically also watched former South African cricket chief Ali Bacher being interviewed on SuperSport this week.
Bacher was unapologetic about the significant role he played in the organisation of rebel tours to South Africa during apartheid. He pleaded ignorance in regards to the country’s political situation during the 1980s, claiming white people were not exposed to the atrocities of the National Party government.
The point of reference in his defence was that only after conversations with former Robben Island prisoner Steve Tshwete was he cognisant of his actions and the repercussions it may have had in hindsight.
But with Bacher being a medical doctor who practised in Soweto, how are we supposed to believe this was not a classic case of “looking away”?
Even further, did he not stop to ask himself why principled men such as Holding, Viv Richards and Clive Lloyd declined the invitation to tour South Africa despite him waving virtual blank cheques in front of them?
I am not here calling for the public lynching of Bacher, but instead hoping that everyone, particularly white South Africa, finally takes off its blinkers and open its eyes to the fact that sport and politics are indeed interlinked and not mutually exclusive.
The late South African Council of Sport (Sacos) supremo Hassan Howa’s slogan “No Normal Sport in an Abnormal Society” – which was very much in the forefront of society while Bacher was organising the rebel tours – was not just a throwaway line. It was a belief system for many that were battling against all odds to keep non-racial sport alive in the various communities.
It remains important to this day, particularly when a former South African cricketer such as Pat Symcox believes he has the right to tell current Proteas fast bowler Lungi Ngidi to appreciate where his next meal is coming from for simply wanting to address Black Lives Matter within the national team dressing room.
Symcox said: “What nonsense is this. He must take his own stand if he wishes. Stop trying to get the Proteas involved in his belief. Besides the fact that right now Cricket South Africa should be closed down. A proper dog and pony show with cricket being dragged through the mud daily. Buy popcorn and watch. Now when Ngidi has his next meal perhaps he would rather consider supporting the farmers of South Africa who are under pressure right now. A cause worth supporting.”
The arrogance of Symcox’s statement is simply incomprehensible, particularly as it was directed at a young man who had grown up with parents who were domestic workers and who had to leave home before he was a teenager in the hope of working towards a better life.
Even more disturbing was the fact that Symcox was not a lone voice. Another former Proteas batsman, Boeta Dippenaar, stated, “I am sorry to say Black Lives Matter has become nothing more than a leftist political movement,” and that “All lives matter. If you want me to stand shoulder to shoulder with you Lungi then stand shoulder to shoulder with me regards to farm attacks.”
Although both will claim they were merely highlighting the increase of murders currently happening on South African farms, which undoubtedly is unforgivable, they displayed their absolute ignorance about what the Black Lives Matter movement is actually trying to achieve.
I will leave it to the great man Holding to explain.
“The dehumanisation of the black race is where this started. And people will tell you ‘That’s a long time ago, get over it’. No, we don’t get over things like that History is written by the conqueror, not by those that are conquered. Until we educate the entire human race, this thing will not stop.
“People keep telling me there’s no such thing as white privilege. Give me a break! I don’t see white people being followed when they go into the shop.
“Everyone is recognising it. Everyone is coming together and seeing the difference in treatment. We are all human beings so I hope people will recognise that the Black Lives Movement is not about getting black people above white people. It is all about equality.
“So when you tell people that Black Lives Matter and they turn around and tell you that All Lives Matter or White Lives Matter Please we know White Lives Matter. I don’t think you know Black Lives Matter, so don’t shout back at us about All Lives Matter. It is obvious. The evidence is clearly there that White Lives Matter.”
These are telling words that must not be forgotten. Least of all by the likes of Symcox, Dippenaar and Co.
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