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3T exhibition match a beacon of hope for both sport and BLM

Lungi Ngidi of South Africa reacts in disappointment after losing the game during the ICC Cricket World Cup match bettween South Africa and New Zealand at Edgbaston, Birmingham, England on 19 June 2019 (©Gavin Barker/BackpagePix)

Lungi Ngidi’s call for South Africa to take up the Black Lives Matter movement has sparked robust conversation within the local cricket fraternity.

South African sports fans have been grossly starved of action since the insurgence of the coronavirus. In March the government announced a stringent national lockdown, which meant the suspension of all sporting activity as well. Since the government has moved to gradually ease some restrictions, sports federations have been given the greenlight to resume activity, including Cricket South Africa (CSA).

CSA have chosen to make their return by championing a brand-new format known as 3TCricket (3TC). The exhibition match, meant to raise funds for those most impacted by Covid-19, will be the first live local sporting event since the country went into lockdown. It will see three teams of eight Protea players each – the Eagles, Kingfishers and Kites – captained by AB de Villiers, Heinrich Klaasen and Quinton de Kock respectively, duke it out for the Solidarity Cup.

“The aim of the Solidarity Cup is not only to stand as a beacon of hope, lifting the spirits of all South Africans during this time, but to also raise awareness and much-needed funds to help those most impacted by the pandemic,” said Jacques Faul, who is the acting chief executive for CSA.

The irony cannot be missed, however, when it comes to the word solidarity. One of the players who will be involved in the inaugural showpiece, Lungi Ngidi, was criticised by former players Pat Symcox, Boeta Dippenaar, Rudi Steyn and Brian McMillan for his stance that South Africa should also throw its weight behind the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, especially considering the history of the country, and the injustices that still prevail as a result.  

The quartet asked why Ngidi and other supporters of BLM in the country have not been as vocal about farm murders, claiming that “all lives matter”. A statement, signed by 31 former black players and coaches, including the like Ashwell Prince and Makhaya Ntini, offered support for Ngidi’s message.

Since then CSA has stated numerous times its support for the movement, while a few of those players who signed that statement have come out to share their own experiences of racism and discrimination while playing the game.

The latest was Ntini, who spoke to SABC News on Friday morning, detailing how lonely it was being a black player in the Proteas team at the time, in spite of how well he was doing on the pitch. Ntini, who is also the father of Thando Ntini, a rising starlet, said this was the right time to speak out on some of the mindsets in South African cricket.

“If you were the first one in the breakfast room, the next person that walks in would never come and sit next to you. That loneliness, that you are playing within the same team, getting into the same bus, driving all the way to the stadium, bowling to them, singing the same national anthem. So, those things, I had to find a way to overcome them,” said Ntini.

As the Solidarity Cup has drawn closer there have also been growing calls for white South African cricketers from the current crop to also voice their support for BLM, and acknowledge the flaws of the cricket system in the country. There have also been questions of how those involved on the day will show solidarity.

Since sport has returned around the world, it’s been commonplace to see athletes taking the knee in support of BLM. Be it football, Formula 1 or the ongoing Test series between England and the West Indies. On Thursday, batsman Rassie van der Dussen became the first white player to declare his support for the cause. He has since been followed by all-rounder Dwaine Pretorius and former Proteas captain Faf du Plessis.

Faf du Plessis during the Group Stage match of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 between England and South Africa at The Oval on May 30, 2019 in London, England. (Photo: Visionhaus/Getty Images)

Du Plessis himself came in for some criticism when he said the team does not “see colour” as the Proteas prepared to take on England in the second Test back in January. This followed on from Temba Bavuma, who had been through a lean patch, being dropped for Pieter Malan. The statement caused furore considering that prior to democracy, black players had been excluded from the sport purely because of their colour, and at times that culture still prevails.

“I have gotten it wrong before. Good intentions were failed by a lack of perspective when I said on a platform that I don’t see colour. In my ignorance I silenced the struggles of others by placing my own view on it,” said Du Plessis in a statement released on Friday.

“So, I am saying that all lives don’t matter UNTIL black lives matter. I’m speaking up now, because if I wait to be perfect, I never will. I want to leave a legacy of empathy. The work needs to continue for the change to come and whether we agree or disagree, conversation is the vehicle for change,” he continued.

With all that has transpired over the last few weeks, it has become evident that Saturday’s match, scheduled for 11am start at Supersport Park, will be much more than just an experimental cricket match. 

On the field, Kagiso Rabada and Sisanda Magala will not be involved after being forced to pull out due to deaths of immediate family members. Chris Morris will also miss out. Ntini Junior, Bjorn Fortuin and Gerald Coetzee will be their respective replacements. The match will be broadcast live on Supersport 2. DM

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