‘Woke’ demands and ‘racist’ comments at the Cricket World Cup are producing explosive controversy for South Africa, Pakistan and India.

27 October 2021 By Paul Martin

It was a move that sent shockwaves through the sporting world. South Africa’s best batsman and wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock pulled out of a crucial match in the short-form cricket series, the World Cup T20, rather than obey an order, made hours before by the body that runs cricket in his home country, to take the knee in unison with all team members. And after another match a Pakistani player appeared to use a disparaging, racist slogan when he referred to his defeated Indian opponents.

After a two-and-a-half hour bus-ride to the ground, De Kock revealed his decision (to boycott the match rather than obey the order) to his astounded captain Temba Bavuma, the first black man to lead a South African cricket team. ““My reason? I’ll keep it to myself. It’s my own personal opinion,” was all De Kock would later say by way of explanation.

In turn, Bavuma told the official television broadcasters that his star would not be playing “for personal reasons”. De Kock real motivation only emerged later in the day. Despite this hock, the team still managed to decisively defeat one of the favourites to win the entire tournament, the West Indies. However the shockwaves, and the loss of a key player, does not bode well for the South Africans, who need to win at least two of their remaining three matches (against Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and favourites England) to have any chance of advancing to the semi-finals.

The problem arose when some of the South Africans did not take the knee before they played Australia in their opening match (which they lost). Cricket South Africa’s board then issued a statement that only reached the players hours before the next match. It declared: “Concerns were raised that the different postures taken by team members in support of the Black Lives Matter 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.”

Sport and politics have been intertwined in the South African struggle against apartheid and, after white rule was ended, there was also frustration that black players did not emerge into the national cricket side in the same proportions as the ratio of blacks to whites in the general population.

However it is far from a universal rule that all sportspeople make the genuflecting gesture popularised by Black Lives Matter.

Originally the International Olympic Committee planned to ban taking the knee at the postponed Olympic Games in Tokyo. However under international pressure and threatened player revolts, the IOC relaxed its Rule 50, which had forbidden athletes from making any sort of “demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas”.

Peaceful protest was then allowed on the field of play, provided it would be done without disruption and with respect for fellow competitors. However, sanctions were threatened for any protests made on the podium where gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded.

In this cricket tournament, the players of the strongly-fancied Pakistan cricket team have been putting hands on heart rather than bending their knees. It’s believed there is an Islamic injunction to be submissive only to Allah.

It is understood that Cricket South Africa has been asked to consider whether De Kock could not simply use the hand-on-heart gesture to demonstrate his support for the fight against racism. If so, he could return to the team before their crucial next match, on Saturday.

The other controversy in regard to racism came on the same day. Pakistan defeated their arch-rivals India for the first time in many years. Political tensions between the two subcontinental countries have been high for decades, including two wars and a nuclear arms race. There was also a terrorist attack on hotels in a major Indian city, Mumbai, lasting four days in November 2008, when 10 members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a hardline Islamist organisation from Pakistan, carried out 12 coordinated shooting and bombing attacks.

When the two countries take the field against each other cricket, it’s more than sport that’s at play.

Provocatively, the Pakistan government’s Federal Minister of Interior, and president-founder of the Awami Muslim League, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, described the team’s cricket win over India as a ‘victory of Islam’, and — also on live television – he congratulated all Muslims across the world, including those in India.

Worse still, a Pakistani player interviewed just after the game appeared to endorse a phrase that is widely considered as racist and as ranking one religion, Islam, as superior to another, in this case Hinduism (which has over a billion adherents inside India). The television interviewer congratulated him using the phrase “defeat of the Infidels” or “Defeat of Those who Reject Islam”, depending on how you interpret the world “kufr”. The player agreed. Devout Muslims regard Hinduism, the majority religion in India, as a form of heresy.

LATEST NEWS: Hours after this report was written and placed on correspondent.world, De Kock performed a dramatic U-turn.

“I would like to start by saying sorry to my team-mates, and the fans back home,” said de Kock. “I never ever wanted to make this a Quinton issue. I understand the importance of standing against racism, and I also understand the responsibility of us as players to set an example.

“If me taking a knee helps to educate others, and makes the lives of others better, I am more than happy to do so.”

De Kock said he and his team-mates “were just hit” with the directive when travelling to Tuesday’s game, adding: “I won’t lie, I was shocked that we were told on the way to an important match that there was an instruction that we had to follow, with a perceived ‘or else’. I don’t think I was the only one.

“The rights and equality of all people is more important than any individual. I was raised to understand that we all have rights, and they are important. I felt like my rights were taken away when I was told what we had to do in the way that we were told.”

De Kock said that he did not understand why he had to prove he was anti-racist “with a gesture”.

De Kock held “very emotional” talks with CSA’s board last night.

“I wish this had happened sooner, because what happened on match day could have been avoided,” he said. “I think it would of been better for everyone concerned if we had sorted this out before the tournament started.

“I just want to thank my teammates for their support, especially my captain, Temba. People might not recognise, but he is a flipping amazing leader,” he said. “If he and the team and South Africa, will have me, I would love nothing more than to play cricket for my country again.”