• Opinion: Cricket’s rude and delayed awakening

    Michael Holding and Ebony Rainford-Brent spoke truth, writes ANDRE HUISAMEN.

    It was the video many people didn’t want to see, but needed to see – myself included.

    Wednesday morning Sky Sports Cricket aired an emotionally powerful video on racism in cricket and how the phenomenon has become a devestating societal problem across the world.

    The video caused an instant social media storm and made waves for all the right and needed reasons.

    In the tribute former West Indies bowler Michael Holding and England’s first-ever black women’s cricketer, Ebony Rainford-Brent, recount their personal experiences of facing racial challenges in the game we all love so dearly.

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    ‘I hope that people will recognise that this Black Lives Matter movement is not trying to get black people above white people or anyone else. It is all about equality,’ is a gripping phrase from Holding that I genuinely hope people – and specifically people in South Africa – note and acknowledge.

    This was genuine, raw emotion by Holding and Rainford-Brent as they shared so many personal experiences of being a black cricketer.

    Since the tragic death of George Floyd towards the end of May almost every aspect of normal life has been forced into deep consideration and thought about the racist challenges faced in all our communities.

    While I admit that my personal contribution in my 26 years on earth to this matter has been nowhere close to revolutionary, watching Holding and Rainford-Brent break down in tears struck me with a belly blow.

    For nearly two months now most of the world has actively been engaging in raising awareness on the issue of institutionalised racism, yet almost all South Africa’s sporting organisations are dead silent.

    In particular, Cricket South Africa.

    The part of the Sky Sports Cricket tribute with so much cricket under apartheid referenced, and specifically the South African rebel tours of the 1980s, shouldn’t go unnoticed.

    White media publishers and government praised the 1982 English team that secretly travelled to South Africa for a Test and ODI series, while the whole world was angered by it.

    Now more than ever, one would think that CSA should heed the call for a proper public stance in a sport starting to grow among black South Africans and with representation at national level beginning to feature.

    On Monday Lungi Ngidi, who over the weekend was named the best ODI and T20I player in South Africa, said he would encourage his Proteas teammates to take a proper stand against racism once they return to action.

    Somewhat unsurprisingly, the comments directed towards Ngidi’s stance on Afrikaans publication Netwerk24‘s Facebook post, explain the very naive core of racism in South Africa.

    Watch: Holding breaks down in #BLM tribute

    ‘Please, we black people know white lives matter, but I don’t think you would know black lives matter. So don’t shout back at us “All lives matter”. It is obvious, the evidence is clearly there that white lives matter. We want black lives to matter now. Simple as that,’ are the final words from Holding in the video. It’s never been more relevant than in South Africa, where such comparisons have been blown completely out of proportion.

    Like Sky Sports and the English Cricket Board, we need the governing bodies to drive this message of acknowledgement through to all corners of South Africa.

    This was a broadcasting statement of intent by Sky, who knew they were running a massive risk by compiling this video. They also undeniably knew that they would receive backlash from certain sections of their viewership.

    But, they decided to take their own personal stand in the process, acknowledging and accepting that this ideal will not sit well with many of their viewers, adamant to address the deep roots of institutional racism in society as a result.

    It was almost scary how many times Holding’s words echoed that of former president Nelson Mandela about the power of sport and the power of education.

    I genuinely admire Sky for the determination they ran the segment with and how, completely non-scripted, they joined the live broadcast at the Ageas Bowl prior to the start of the first Test between England and the West Indies where Holding followed that stance with even more grit and passion – and he eventually broke down in tears.

    It was tough to watch, yes, but it set a precedent that I think many institutions and organisations across the world can learn from.

    For too long this compromise of what sort of racism is acceptable and what is not has been overlooked, especially in South Africa.

    On Tuesday the ECB also announced a series of new initiatives to tackle grassroot racism in cricket and to open the unwitting borders that have been established over the years.

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    The CEO of that board also admitted that for far too long English cricket have failed to be more diverse and transparent in growing the game.

    We can’t just rely on Ngidi to make a few comments or other sporting athletes, who have done some exceptional work during the Covid-19 pandemic by helping less fortunate communities in the country, to provide us with some sort of example.

    An overwhelming partnership is needed at the highest level for people to really believe and grasp the change that is needed to tackle racism in South Africa and all over the world.

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    Andre Huisamen