CSA’s Lawson Naidoo responds to Jonathan Jansen on De Kock ‘knee’ debacle

‘Momentum must not be lost to keep doing the right things to heal the ills of the past’

29 October 2021 - 13:20 By Lawson Naidoo
Cricket SA board chair Lawson Naidoo has responded to Prof Jonathan Jansen's column on the Quinton de Kock (pictured) World Cup saga. File image.
Cricket SA board chair Lawson Naidoo has responded to Prof Jonathan Jansen's column on the Quinton de Kock (pictured) World Cup saga. File image.
Image: Gallo Images/Luba Lesolle

The great Michael Holding put it best when he said during Euro 2020 – in the midst of fervent protests and boos against those “taking the knee” in the global fight against racism – that the players are not doing it for a political movement but for crucial humanitarian reasons and must be respected for their bravery.

Equally true is that a mere gesture or “moment of unity” in itself is not nearly enough.

The admonition from commentators – including Prof Jonathan Jansen, in a Sunday Times Daily column titled “CSA has made Quinton a scapegoat for its Kock-ups”, who seem to feel that such an issue of principle is a manufactured distraction from the real problems – could not be further from the truth.

CSA knows any “moment of unity” is only that – a fleeting moment in time that, if left to float into the ether, does nothing and means nothing. But when this united stance is taken by adopting the globally accepted kneeling gesture and comes from a national team, on a national stage, in front of the world, it has real meaning and can contribute to achieve great change.

The CSA board has made it very clear that enhancing access, inclusivity and excellence are the crucial pillars that will lead to success both on and off the field. Transformation from grass-roots and throughout all our structures lies at the heart of CSA’s initiatives.

Indeed, Jansen makes no reference to the fact that CSA initiated the Social Justice and Nation-Building process, with the report of the independent ombudsman due later this year. Either he is unaware of this important intervention that was initiated by the very body that he seeks to castigate or he very conveniently ignores it. Either way, this does a disservice to the readers. 

This spirit of transformation must permeate the organisation and it is imperative the right tone is set from the top, without exception. Players at a national level have a responsibility to join us on this path to unity.

However, CSA did not adopt its directive this week requiring Proteas players to take a consistent and united stance against racism during their remaining World Cup matches lightly, nor for any political motive, or, as Jansen implies, as a way to evade serious engagement on racism. Quite the opposite is true.

As an organisation, we are on a critical journey of renewal and change, so that all our people can enjoy the game and be proud of what we stand for.

We agree that more needs to be done in educating players on the importance of fighting racism and why a symbolic gesture like this is part of the solution, but not the end in itself. The positive outcomes of the recent discussions with the players are reflective of the ongoing need for engagement with not just national players but with players and administrators in all our cricketing structures.

CSA is, more broadly, actively promoting a holistic transformation strategy that embraces the diversity with which SA has been blessed. However, contrary to the blame being mostly placed at the administrators’ door by the professor, players have been on culture camps and were given an opportunity for about a year to develop a consensus.

During last week’s game against Australia, players were unfortunately still adopting up to four different stances, some with their hands in the air, kneeling, standing to attention, or even worse, some with their hands casually behind their backs.

During last week’s game against Australia, players were unfortunately still adopting up to four different stances, some with their hands in the air, kneeling, standing to attention, or even worse, some with their hands casually behind their backs.

Contrast that with Australia, the West Indies, India, England, Scotland and Afghanistan in earlier games. It was clear SA needed to come together and do more to indicate its commitment to fight racism.

It is unfortunate that many do not accept that requiring our players to be brave in such a moment and for such an important cause, given our history, is the right thing to do. Ideally it should have happened earlier, but that failure cannot be laid at the door of the current CSA board. 

The desire of players to express themselves as individuals was, of course, carefully weighed against the collective need to put an end to racism through words, deeds and action. Any notions of powers being abused, or rights being trampled, are fallacious.

Quite apart from being something which costs sport people their careers – as was the case in the 1960s or even recently when American footballer Colin Kaepernick took the knee during the national anthem before a match in 2016 – “taking the knee” is now the accepted global gesture against racism adopted by sportspeople across sporting codes because they recognise the power sport has to bring people together.

Yes, it is not easy – witness the thousands of violent clashes at Wembley recently when England players took the knee.

But momentum must not be lost to keep doing the right things to heal the ills of the past. A gesture it may be, but it is one that will ensure SA becomes stronger.

Lawson Naidoo is chairperson of the Cricket SA board.


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