A new episode of racial politics has emerged around the South African cricket team, with the Proteas’ decision not to wear black armbands in their series against Pakistan following the deaths of former Springbok cricket captain Peter van der Merwe and fast bowler Neil Adcock.
Why has this happened?
The players themselves, apparently, decided these two great cricketers of the 1950s and ’60s were not worthy of being recognised because they had played apartheid sport.
According to media, team management said decisions on black armbands were taken by the players in line with a commitment to respect sensitivities on both sides of SA cricket’s racially divided past.
Talk about being politically correct.
Does that mean my idol as a youngster, Graeme Pollock, will be also denied that honour one day? Does it mean the same will apply to Barry Richards, David Dyer, Tich Smith, Garth le Roux, and more?
There are many of us who have scant regard or respect for past apartheid policies, but surely when it comes down to common decency, besides the fact players of the ilk of Van der Merwe and Adcock were undoubtedly two of the best of their time, shouldn’t any sportsman’s death befit the wearing of a black armband by those that come after them?
It was not the fault of these players of the past that a system so reviled denied so many talented athletes a chance to wear the green and gold.
Quoted on the News24.com website, Barry Richards, whose international career was limited to four Tests due to apartheid, said, “It’s time to forgive and forget.
“We can’t keep up this pretence that there was no cricket before 1992 (when SA played their first Test after 22 years of apartheid-induced isolation).”
Richards said he was a victim of apartheid.
“I was three years old when the National Party came in to power in 1948, but I’ve paid the penalty.
“They keep talking about disadvantaged people – no-one’s more disadvantaged than Graeme (Pollock) and me. We couldn’t have Test cricket and we’re not recognised now.
“It was a sad part of our history, but let’s acknowledge that the guys who were good in that era were good, and when they die we respect them. It would be nice if the team did that.”
Left-hander Pollock played 23 Tests before SA were kicked out of world cricket in 1970 and was officially recognised as the country’s Cricketer of the Century in 2000.
Pollock said the lack of black armbands for Adcock and Van der Merwe, “is in line with the thinking that anything that happened pre-1992 doesn’t get any credit or wasn’t part of the system.
“Everybody who has played for SA has made a contribution and those two gentlemen certainly made a contribution.
“You’ve got to close the gap between the pre-’92 era and the current scenario. In Australia, all ex-cricketers are rewarded and thanked for their contribution.”
Adcock, who took 104 wickets at an average of 21.10 in his 26 Tests, was among the most feared fast bowlers of the 1950s and early 1960s.
Van der Merwe captained SA to their first Test series win in England, in 1965.
According to cricket writer and columnist Telford Vice, former SA fast bowler Makhaya Ntini called for inclusiveness.
“That’s our history – it doesn’t matter who you are or when you played, if you played for SA you should be remembered in this way,” Ntini said.
Vice went on to say that Proteas team manager Mohammed Moosajee said the players were mindful of not offending any part of cricket’s constituency with decisions that could be politically charged.
“It’s purely a player policy, and the player policy is that (they will consider wearing black armbands) if someone who is close to the team and management from a family perspective or someone who has been involved in Cricket SA, especially post-unity, dies,” Moosajee said.
So questions might be asked how will Ali Bacher be honoured one day?
He captained the 1970 team that whitewashed Australia, before the sporting boycott arrived. He was then appointed SA Cricket Union boss in the 80s and was instrumental in organising the rebel tours of the time that divided a nation and South African cricketing public.
He then served the United Cricket Board and left to organise a successful 2003 Cricket World Cup in South Africa.
I remember as a youngster watching the likes of Graeme Pollock, Chris Wilkins, Simon Bezuidenhout, Kepler Wessels, and Ken McEwan, among many, at St George’s Park in their heyday. They provided us with many thrilling moments.
The apartheid politics of the day were abhorrent to say the least and left a bitter taste in the mouth.
Today, in a new democracy, it seems we have lost the plot. If sport’s greater goal is to bring people together (especially in South Africa), we must at least pay homage to the great sporting icons of that time too.
This is about humanity, acknowledgement and, as I said earlier, common decency. Not about scoring political points.