IT’S NOT JUST CRICKET
Proteas skipper Bavuma says De Kock has team’s support after refusing to take a knee
The Proteas put their T20 World Cup campaign back on track with an eight-wicket win over the West Indies in Dubai on Tuesday, but victory was soured by controversy.
The Proteas’ T20 World Cup campaign might be back on track after they beat the West Indies by eight wickets with 10 balls to spare, but there are some important discussions to come.
Former South Africa captain Quinton de Kock refused to heed a directive from Cricket South Africa (CSA) to kneel as a sign of solidarity against racism before Tuesday’s match, and instead withdrew from the team.
CSA issued the decree to the squad hours before the start of the Group 1 T20 World Cup clash in Dubai. Just before the start of the match, CSA issued a statement confirming the position. De Kock, in the interim, decided to stand down rather than take a knee under duress.
His actions mobilised social media lynch mobs in minutes, even though all the facts were unclear at the time. It was left to captain Temba Bavuma to field awkward pre-match questions. Bavuma handled the difficult situation with dexterity, saying De Kock had withdrawn for “personal reasons”, which was accurate while being vague.
But Bavuma also said that De Kock, as a teammate, still had the support of his peers.
“Quinton is still one of the players, one of the boys, whatever support he needs, whatever shoulder he requires from his teammates, will be there for him,” Bavuma said in a media briefing after the match. “If there is a need for further conversations to be had, those will definitely happen.”
CSA confirmed in a statement that De Kock had stood down in objection to the directive to kneel before the start of the match. It has become a universally adopted, but not necessarily a universally embraced, symbol of solidarity for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.
After the match, in which the West Indies posted 143 for eight and the Proteas reached 144 for two in the 19th over to win, Bavuma acknowledged that the team was shaken by De Kock’s stance.
“As a team, we are surprised and taken aback by the news. Quinton is a big player for the team, not just with the bat, but from a senior point of view, so not having this at my disposal, as a captain, is obviously something I wasn’t looking forward to,” Bavuma said after the match.
“In saying that, Quinton is an adult. He is a man in his own shoes. We respect his decision, we respect his convictions, and I know he will be standing behind the decision he has taken.”
Bavuma confirmed that the directive from CSA to take a knee reached the players at about 9am in Dubai, which was five hours before the match was due to start.
“Before getting on the bus to travel to Dubai, that message was passed on to the players,” Bavuma said. “During the two-hour trip from Abu Dhabi to Dubai, Quinton made his decision. I found out when I got to the changing room.
“There wasn’t a great deal of time for us to thoroughly discuss this matter. Unfortunately, it was a matter of us digesting what we’ve been told and finding a way to move forward.
“It was probably one of the toughest days I’ve had to deal with as a captain, as a leader of the team, for obvious reasons with the off-field matters. We had to get the job done.
“There was still a game of cricket for our country. It was important that as much as everything was happening we found a way to get into the right mental space and take it home for our country.”
In its first statement, CSA said: “The CSA Board on Monday evening unanimously agreed to issue a directive requiring all Proteas players to adopt a consistent and united stance against racism by ‘taking the knee’ prior to the start of their remaining World Cup matches.
“Concerns were raised that the different postures taken by team members in support of the BLM initiative created an unintended perception of disparity or lack of support for the initiative.
“After considering all relevant issues, including the position of the players, the Board felt that it was imperative for the team to be seen taking a united and consistent stand against racism, especially given South Africa’s history.
“Several other teams at the World Cup have adopted a consistent stance against the issue, and the Board felt it is time for all SA players to do the same.”
CSA might pay De Kock’s salary, but whether their jurisdiction stretches as far as forcing him, or other players to make a gesture in support of a social or political cause, is unlikely to hold up if this matter ever reaches court.
That De Kock made a conscious decision against taking the knee in previous matches was one thing, that he refused to be forced to do it, is another.
While he is being vilified in the court of public opinion, De Kock might have a case in a labour court. CSA’s directive is not enshrined in any constitution.
CSA’s lack of leadership
De Kock has yet to speak out on the issue and it is understood he might make a statement in the coming days. Until then, Bavuma and coach Mark Boucher have to manage a difficult situation leading up to their next match against Sri Lanka. It’s a situation that has been festering for many months without decisive leadership from CSA.
The fact that the governing body chose to make a decree such as this on the eve of a crunch World Cup match underlines how chaotic the CSA leadership has been in the past two years. This matter should have been decisively dealt with months ago.
“We have a few days before the next game and I think those days will be tough for the group,” Bavuma said.
“Guys who want to know in terms of his decision will use that time to find out more. Quinton is an adult. He made his decision. You have to respect it, whether you agree with it or not.
“As much as you have the choice to decide what you want to do, you can’t escape the consequences of the choices and decisions we make. If there are people out there who think certain people need more clarity, then the fans, the media, it’s best that you ask those guys directly.
“It becomes blurry when you are asking me about other guys. If you are really wanting to get the clarity that you seem to want, you should probably ask those individuals themselves.”
Bavuma eloquently encapsulated the complexity of forcing players from a range of backgrounds to make a gesture for a cause they either don’t fully grasp or fully support.
“I don’t think it is as simple as just taking a knee,” Bavuma said. “We have to appreciate that we live in a country like South Africa that has its own past, that is diverse in its views, diverse in the way people see things, and their backgrounds and decisions that we take, things that we support, are based on our own convictions.
“As much as we are a team, we wear the same shirt, we play for the same badge, outside of that we still live our own lives and those lives are different by the very nature that we live in South Africa.
“Over the last while, I have learnt to appreciate that a lot more, try to widen your own perspective as an individual and not expect people to see things the way you see things. My beliefs, the way that I see things, is shaped by my own background, and so is the other person’s.
“If there is a disagreement in terms of beliefs, in terms of views, that’s why we have those hard conversations. Through those conversations we will be able to get the comfort to accept the other person’s decision. I can’t force anyone to see things the way I do, neither can they force me to.”
CSA double down
The use of the word “force” was telling. Bavuma stated clearly he couldn’t force someone to see things the way he did. He didn’t go as far as saying that the CSA decree to force players to take a knee was wrong, but his comments could be interpreted that way.
Regardless, a defiant CSA doubled down on its stance later in the day
“All players had been required, in line with a directive of the CSA board on Monday evening, to ‘take the knee’ in a united and consistent stance against racism,” a second statement said.
“This is also the global gesture against racism that has been adopted by sportspeople across sporting codes because they recognise the power of sport to bring people together.
“After considering all relevant issues, including the freedom of choice of players, the board had made it clear it was imperative for the team to be seen taking a stand against racism, especially given SA’s history.
“The board’s view was that while diversity can and should find expression in many facets of daily lives, this did not apply when it came to taking a stand against racism.
“The board will await a further report from team management before deciding on the next steps. All players are expected to follow this directive for the remaining games of the World Cup.”
Bavuma was unsure if De Kock was still eligible for the team under the circumstances and was also unsure if a replacement could be called, should De Kock be sacked by CSA, or withdraw from the tournament.
“I don’t know how far it is going to develop. The decision he has taken is only today so I can only speak about what has happened today,” Bavuma said.
“It wouldn’t be my decision whether to replace Quinton or get a substitute. That will most probably be the coach and the selectors.” DM