Quinton de Kock refused to play in a T20 World Cup game against the West Indies on Tuesday in protest after Cricket South Africa ordered its players to take a knee before matches in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
CSA issued a statement about an hour before the start of the match in Dubai saying it had ordered players to make the anti-racism gesture ahead of their remaining games at the tournament.
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In a second statement responding to de Kock’s withdrawal from Tuesday’s game, CSA said it noted the wicketkeeper-batsman’s “personal decision” not to take a knee and would decide on its next course of action after a report from team management. There was speculation that de Kock, a former national team captain, would return home from the World Cup.
CSA said it decided to force players to take a knee after “concerns were raised” about the “different postures” taken ahead of warmup matches and the team’s first World Cup game against Australia on Saturday.
Some members of South Africa’s team take a knee with their fists raised. Others stand with fists raised. De Kock, fast bowler Anrich Nortje and batsman Heinrich Klaasen, who are all white, have stood with their hands by their side before recent matches.
Ahead of the West Indies game, Klaasen and Nortje took a knee, as did every other South African player, in response to the directive.
“Diversity can and should find expression in many facets of our daily lives, but not when it comes to taking a stand against racism,” said CSA chairman Lawson Naidoo in defense of the new policy, which seemingly now means players must take a knee if they want to play.
The different stances from players had previously provoked criticism from some quarters in South Africa, where issues of racism are constantly in the headlines because of the country’s history of forced segregation under the former apartheid regime.
The cricketers, many of them sporting idols back home, “created an unintended perception of disparity or lack of support” for the anti-racism movement, CSA said.
However, compelling players to kneel before games stirred fierce debate and split opinion back home and, as de Kock’s situation showed, has created friction within the team.
The World Cup team is led by Temba Bavuma, the country’s first Black cricket captain. It is a multiracial squad, with Black players, white players, players of Asian descent and of mixed-race heritage.
However, South Africa’s history of racism under apartheid seeped into all areas of society — only whites were allowed to play for sports teams — and cricket, like many areas, has struggled to emerge fully from that shadow.
Recently, South African cricket has held a series of open hearings after Black players who were previously on the team claimed they were marginalized, and sometimes victims of direct racism, even years after apartheid ended in 1994.
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The most damaging revelation at the hearings came when former spin bowler Paul Adams said he was regularly racially abused during the late 1990s in a song sung by white teammates, including Mark Boucher, who is now the national team coach and in charge at the World Cup.
Boucher has since issued an apology, saying he didn’t realize at the time that the song caused offense.
CSA said its board “unanimously agreed” to force players to take a knee after a meeting on Monday, adding it also considered “the position of the players” before making the decision. The organization was pushed into action after seeing other teams, like England and the West Indies, take a knee in a unified position, it said.
“The board felt it was imperative for the team to be seen taking a united and consistent stand against racism, especially given (South Africa’s) history,” CSA said. “Several other teams at the World Cup have adopted a consistent stance against the issue, and the board felt it is time for all (South African) players to do the same.”
But there was opposition to it being forced.
Former England cricket captain Michael Vaughan wrote on Twitter: “Surely it’s down to the individual to decide whether he or she wants to be involved in any movement.”