Authored by the team ‘Pink Panthers’: Neil Polley, Gemma Campbell, Steph Bell, Lauren Hickson, George Bradley and Sarah Crawford [E119 20J students]
This blog was written as part of a collaborative teamwork task by students studying E119. They had to select a topic and then decide on what roles each person would perform in the team, such as researcher, writer, editor and leader. This blog was chosen as one of the best blogs from around 80 blogs that were produced.
The world as we know it has been brought to a standstill. Sports culture, an unrecognisable shadow of what it once was. However, in the midst of all this inactivity, there is one all too familiar, yet never to be undervalued movement – The fight for justice. There is no questioning the impact that the recent ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement has had on attitudes towards justice, and when we look at sport, we can see the efforts that have been made to incorporate messages of solidarity towards the goal of eradicating racism for good. Despite not being in the thick of the limelight, cricket is not without its controversies, and, in order to tackle the issue of racism in the sport, it must first address its inaccuracies and teams must decide, with conviction, how best to hit injustice for six, once and for all.
Cricket is undoubtedly one of the most popular sports in South Africa, but even the joy that this sport brings cannot distract from the pattern of injustice which overshadows the country’s history and can in fact breed more scope for debate regarding discrimination. A recent survey by the united nations showed that only 8% of South African schoolkids of non-white descent have access to sport, which is largely due to poverty and lack of facilities, so this just goes to show the severity of the issue surrounding inequality in South African cricket (The Indian Express, 2020). In addition to this, I was staggered to learn that even today, a quota system is implemented by South Africa’s Cricket governing body- CSA, stipulating that 6 non-white players must be picked in each squad, which, in the opinion of the first black South African cricketer, Makhaya Ntini, ‘puts a question mark on everything achieved as a player’. This is a fair analysis, as it will probably leave black cricketers wondering whether they are truly there on merit, or just to make up the numbers.
Injustice in cricket can be seen closer to home as well. Former first-class umpire John Holder caused shockwaves in November when he accused the English Cricket Board of “vicious and systematic racism” when BAME individuals are up for selection. This comes after no non-white umpires have been elevated to the First-Class Umpires Panel, since Holder’s retirement 11 years ago. Which seems shocking enough but is compounded further when considering a statement from the England Cricket Board in June of last year in which they stated that “their sport is not immune from systemic racism”, a worrying comment from the ECB, but one which will hopefully spark change in the organisation.
So how do teams best show their solidarity to the movement? Well, we might consider England and Australia bad examples, after both decided against taking a knee for their one-day international series in September 2020, perhaps failing to emphasise the stance they took earlier in the summer. Former cricketer, Michael Holding slammed the two countries and said that their excuses for not taking a knee were ‘flimsy’ and ‘lame’. The argument is- many other sports teams continue to take a knee, to keep spreading awareness, so why did the England and Australia cricket teams decide to fade away so early, and would other teams make the same mistake?
A later incident, this time involving South Africa, also resulted in a fair amount of scrutiny. As a team, they decided ‘unanimously’ not to take a knee before their T20 series with England, in November. They stated that they would instead be continuing to work in their personal, team and public spaces to dismantle racism. This was a strong message from the South African team and perhaps a highly effective one, suggesting rather than just sporting a gesture and leaving it at that, they would be trying to implement real change in the community. Although, it led to a separate statement from Kagiso Rabada, who stated that the Black Lives Matter movement would always be important to him, which is the only hint of discontent at the team’s decision.
This decision did face backlash, as journalist Neil Manthorp described it as a ‘missed opportunity’ and cited reasons such as their history with apartheid and feelings of loneliness from South African players as to why they would have been better off making the gesture. Then, although unrelated to Manthorp’s comments, South Africa decided that they would be making a gesture during their test series against Sri Lanka, after what was described as ‘a process of deep democracy within the team’, opting to raise a fist, a symbol of huge significance to South African history with reference to Nelson Mandela. This was perhaps, the perfect solution to the debate.
For cricket, moving forward, no matter how awkward or difficult it is, the priority has to be not to hide from any discriminatory incidents in its past or present day, but to acknowledge them, and most crucially, ensure that the relevant bodies do all they can to eradicate these incidents of injustice from the game. And in terms of the approach teams take to the fight for equality, I would love to see more teams adopt the approach that South Africa took. Although initially deciding against it, the image of them all raising their fists together against racism before playing Sri Lanka, that came after their U-turn was an incredibly powerful one. A country and team that, throughout history, has been battered time and time again by racial injustice, coming together, as one, to send a poignant message, one which other teams should be proud to follow.
BBC Sport (2020) South Africa v England: Proteas’ knee decision taken ‘unanimously’. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/cricket/55076747 (Accessed: 23/01/21)
BT Sport (2020) Kagiso Rabada reiterates BLM support as South Africa opt against taking knee. Available at: https://www.bt.com/sport/news/2020/november/kagiso-rabada-reiterates-blm-support-as-south-africa-opt-against-taking-knee (Accessed 23/01/21)
Dobson, M (2020) ‘Michael Holding condemns England and Australia for not taking knee’ The Guardian, 10 September. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2020/sep/10/michael-holding-condemns-england-and-australia-for-not-taking-a-knee (Accessed: 23/01/21)
Gibson, R (2020) ‘South Africa players raise their fists in Support of Black Lives Matter movement before Sri Lanka Test after they were criticised by their own board for not taking a knee in England T20 series’ Daily Mail, 26 December. Available at: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/cricket/article-9088683/South-Africa-players-raise-fists-support-Black-Lives-Matter-movement-Sri-Lanka-Test.html (Accessed: 23/01/21)
Press Trust of India (2020) ‘England board admits ‘systemic racism’ exists, Cricket not immune to it’ Business Standard, 13 June. Available at: https://www.business-standard.com/article/sports/england-board-admits-systemic-racism-exists-cricket-not-immune-to-it-120061300216_1.html (Accessed: 23/01/21)
Sandip, G (2010) ‘Under-representation of non-white players in South African team triggers debate’ The Indian Express, 10 January. Available at: https://indianexpress.com/article/sports/cricket/south-africa-cricket-quota-debate-in-black-and-white-6208846/ (Accessed: 22/01/21)
Sky News (2020) English Cricket Board accused of ‘System racism’ over lack of non-white umpires. Available at: https://news.sky.com/story/english-cricket-board-accused-of-system-racism-over-lack-of-non-white-umpires-12134448 (Accessed: 23/01/21)
Sky Sports (2020) Black Lives Matter: South Africa not taking a knee and opportunity missed, says Neil Manthorp. Available at: https://www.skysports.com/cricket/news/12123/12143087/black-lives-matter-south-africa-not-taking-a-knee-and-opportunity-missed-says-neil-manthorp#:~:text=The%20Proteas%20issued%20a%20statement,process%2C%20not%20an%20event%22.&text=%22Given%20South%20Africa’s (Accessed: 23/01/21)
Sky Sports (2020) Makhaya Ntini says quota system devalues achievements of black South African cricketers. (Available at: https://www.skysports.com/cricket/news/12346/11907307/makhaya-ntini-says-quota-system-devalues-achievements-of-black-south-african-cricketers (Accessed: 22/01/21)