The Mark Boucher issue is so much bigger than a Test or ODI series result, writes MARK KEOHANE for Independent Newspapers.
Once again, the emotion of beating India in a three-Test series is detracting from the issue at hand, which is that Boucher, given the charges against him, isn’t the right fit to lead the Proteas.
Boucher has been accused of conducting himself in a racist or subliminally racist manner, both when he was an international player for South Africa two decades ago and now in his capacity as the Proteas coach.
Boucher has been charged as such and his employer, Cricket South Africa, has only one intention, which is to have him found guilty and to dismiss him.
Boucher’s national coaching contract is until the completion of the 2023 World Cup and CSA wants him gone because of its charges. This will mean no early payout because it doesn’t believe in Boucher’s ability as a national coach.
There are many who condemned Boucher’s appointment before he had taken charge of the Proteas and the narrative appeared justified on indifferent results. Boucher, before the India tour, had won two from four Test series, three from eight ODI series and just one from five T20I series. The Proteas also failed to reach the most recent T20 World Cup semi-finals.
On results alone, there was a case to be made to end Boucher’s tenure, but the come-from-behind Test series win over India was huge for Boucher and the Proteas, and his Test coaching credentials were trumpeted.
However, the future of Boucher has nothing to do with his pedigree as an international player or his potential as an international coach.
Boucher, given the charges and the allegations from former national teammate Paul Adams during the Social Justice and Nation-Building (SJN) hearings, is not the right person to lead a Proteas team that speaks to a mass majority of South Africa.
There was outrage that CSA would serve Boucher’s charge sheet on 17 January, just before the start of the ODI series against India and just after the monumental Test series win.
There was a collective disgust from the pro-Boucher lobbyists. He had just led the team to an unlikely Test series triumph over one of the best teams in the world.
CSA’s leadership was criticised for once again bumbling and stumbling and for being incompetent and out of touch with reality.
Ordinarily, I’d agree with any such description of CSA’s leadership because it has been nothing but offensive for way too long, but in the instance of Boucher and the allegations levelled at him, there was never going to be a right or appropriate time to charge him.
The testimony of Adams was gut-wrenching and sad, but Boucher and his legal advisors and personal advisors just didn’t seem to grasp the magnitude of the hurt Adams had felt and also the seriousness of the situation.
This was a social condition that needed addressing and it was a social condition that extended far beyond the value of any cricket result.
Boucher went the legal route from the outset, when Adams said all he had wanted was acknowledgement from Boucher that calling him “brown s**t” was wrong. A phone call would have sufficed, said Adams.
That phone call was never made.
Instead, Boucher’s legal team served papers to counter the testimony of Adams.
Boucher’s response missed the entire point of the SJN hearings.
Where was the remorse and the empathy? Where was an understanding of a view clearly foreign to that of Boucher’s in what constitutes inappropriate and offensive behaviour?
Boucher has publicly shown nothing to convince anyone that he has any more of an understanding of subliminal prejudice in 2022 than he had in 2002.
And he is not alone, given the responses I got from an article last week calling Boucher out of subliminal prejudice.
Whites, who think like Boucher, naturally back Boucher. Those in South Africa who naively include or exclude politics in a conversation with sporting results, feel Boucher is in a position of strength because of the Proteas’ Test series win over India, yet those same voices excused Boucher’s failures in results on political interference and supposedly forced black player selections.
The Boucher issue had to be confronted – and it could only be done through a disciplinary process and one that was conducted with urgency.
This couldn’t wait until the next Test, ODI or T20I series. This certainly could not wait until the next World Cup.
Cricinfo reported that CSA’s seven-page charge sheet accuses Boucher of gross misconduct and bringing CSA into disrepute through historical and current handling of racial issues.
It also reports that the most serious charges against Boucher relate to Adams and that CSA refused to accept Boucher’s response that while he sang the song calling Adams “brown s**t”, he did not compose the lyrics of the song.
Boucher, in an affidavit also accused CSA of not appropriately educating players in the immediate post-apartheid era.
CSA damned Boucher in its charge-sheet response, stating that he conducted himself in a racist or subliminally racist manner.
The charge sheet reads brutally: ‘Having had your racist and/or offensive and/or inappropriate utterances drawn to your attention, you failed to adequately and/or sufficiently and/or appropriately apologise for these utterances and/or acknowledge the racist nature of these utterances and/or the hurt that they caused; and/or … you have conducted yourself in a racist or subliminally racist manner by failing to acknowledge the impact of your conduct towards Mr Adams thereby exacerbating the offence of racism, bearing in mind your current position as the coach of the national team, which places you in a position of leadership and responsibility.’
Boucher is also accused of only wanting to deal with the white players’ concerns on the Black Lives Matter issue of taking the knee and creating division and alienating players and the team by requesting the black manager deal with black players.
Then there is the issue of Boucher’s former assistant coach, Enoch Nkwe, who resigned in August because of concerns with team culture and the accusation of subliminal prejudice in their dealings.
CSA wants a dismissal from the independent chairperson of the disciplinary enquiry and the only reason it hasn’t agreed to an early termination of his contract is because of the potential of a payout, which then asks the question if this is about morality, why has CSA’s leadership allowed it to also be about money – and the saving of that money?
Boucher, given the racial nature of the charges, should be on suspension, pending a dismissal, and not be leading any Proteas team.
He should have been gone this week.