SOUTH African cricket player Quinton de Kock has symbolised the change in social dogma that has encapsulated the world in recent years.

To put it simply, de Kock, 28, opposed the South African cricket board’s mandatory edict that all players take the knee before every match at the Twenty20 world cup in the UAE.

He initially refused to do so in South Africa’s warm up matches.

Then, a divided South African team was ridiculed after players adopted a range of gestures, creating an awkward image broadcast to the world before their game against Australia.

Ridicule and criticism that Cricket South Africa felt obligated to seize control over and restore credibility by issuing their directive.

As a result, de Kock withdraw from his side’s 8 wicket win over the West Indies.

The symbolic gesture of bending the knee has been widely adopted as a symbolic behaviour opposing racism, but also is linked with the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the George Floyd controversy.

The protest had its origins far earlier, credited to NFL player Colin Kaepernick in 2016.

Just how and why the behaviour has found its way into sport is another matter.

It appears to have been accepted in all sports as a pre-requisite to every game, on a global scale, as a unified gesture against racism.

It appears it has reached the status of obligatory, if not mandatory.

In the NFL and other sports, those in authority have left it up to the morality of the individual athlete as to whether to express the gesture.

Those who have refused to bend the knee have often been subjected to fierce criticism, as well as accusations of racism.

There also happens to be the other moral matter of free will. Without criticism or condemnation, to have a choice about how to behave, when, where and why.

Taking away the right to oppose the gesture, irrespective of a person’s reason, has been seen as totalitarian.

However, by refusing to do so, as de Kock experienced, he was largely condemned and accused of racism before any explanation was given.

He had declined to take a knee in warm-up matches and his absence was initially explained as being for “personal reasons”.

But shortly before the game against the West Indies, a statement from the country’s cricket authority confirmed de Kock’s opposition to the gesture was his motivation for his subsequent withdrawal.

“Cricket South Africa (CSA) has noted the personal decision by South African wicket keeper Quinton de Kock not to ‘take the knee’ ahead of Tuesday’s game against the West Indies,” it read.

“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.

“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.”

South African cricket captain Temba Bavuma says he respects de Kock’s decision.

Bavuma replaced de Kock as captain in March after his opening partner took time out for a mental health break.

“Quinton is an adult, he is a man in his own shoes, we respect his decision, we respect his convictions, and I know he’ll be standing behind whatever decision he’s taken.”

West Indian captain Kieron Pollard hadn’t realised the circumstances around de Kock’s withdrawal immediately after the match, but said the team felt strongly about taking the knee.

“Each and everyone has their own opinions on it, but as I’ve always said … education is the key and we don’t want anyone to do it to feel sorry for us.”

On the match broadcast, former Zimbabwean player Pommie Mbangwa and ex-West Indian captain Darren Sammy shared a powerful exchange when de Kock’s absence was explained.

“I dare say Darren, cricket will take a back seat,” Mbangwa said.

“I speak because the team concerned is South Africa with a history of exclusion and racism, and for this as an issue to still be here and to rear here, well it’s huge.

“Excuse me for being political because some will say it is being political, but I cannot shed my skin.”

Sammy replied: “Sometimes I don’t understand why it is so difficult to support this movement if you understand what it stands for … what my kind have been through.”

Clearly, a key issue in Cricket South Africa’s stance has been its notorious history of apartheid and racial segregation.

Sport became embroiled in the political chaos, as many countries refused to play against the national sides, notably in cricket and rugby.

In the early 1970s, former Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam banned racially selected South African sporting teams from visiting the country.

But rebel Australian cricket tours to South Africa in the 1980s went ahead led by former Test captain Kim Hughes and including recently retired chief selector Trevor Hohns.

There were many who believed that sport and politics should not overlap. That sport should be independent of political motivation and manipulation.

The same argument applies today, but more so for the individual athlete to choose their behaviour, under mounting pressure to comply with a social movement perhaps more powerful than a bygone era.

While the period of apartheid may have ended, race remains a dominant issue in South Africa. So much so, that selection policies reflect the new order.

Quotas for selection based on race have been part of South African cricket since 1999 and South African rugby had an agreement with the government that half the players at the 2019 Rugby World Cup should be black.

The first black South African cricket captain was appointed only in March this year: Bavuma, who is now reluctantly pivotal in this latest moment of tension.

Bavuma himself was diplomatic towards de Kock following the match.

“As far as we stand, Quinton is still one of the players, he’s still one of the boys, so whatever support that he needs, whatever shoulder he requires from his teammates, we’ll be there for him,” he said.

If that was to be the end of the matter, with de Kock’s future in the tournament and cricket in the balance, there was yet another twist.

De Kock subsequently apologised to his team-mates and said that he will take the knee for the remainder of the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup. He also reiterated his desire of playing for South Africa. “If me taking a knee helps to educate others, and makes the lives of others better, I am more than happy to do so,” he said in a statement released.

Explaining his stand, De Kock said: “I would like to start by saying sorry to my teammates, and the fans back home.

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.

I did not, in any way, mean to disrespect anyone by not playing against West Indies, especially the West Indian team themselves. Maybe some people don’t understand that we were just hit with this on Tuesday morning, on the way to a game.

I am deeply sorry for all the hurt, confusion and anger that I have caused.

I was quiet on this very important issue until now. But I feel I have to explain myself a little bit.

For those who don’t know, I come from a mixed-race family. My half-sisters are Coloured and my stepmom is Black. For me, Black lives have mattered since I was born. Not just because there was an international movement.

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.

Since our chat with the board last night, which was very emotional, I think we all have a better understanding of their intentions as well. I wish this had happened sooner, because what happened on match day could have been avoided.

I know I have an example to set. We were previously told we had the choice to do what we felt we wanted to do.

I chose to keep my thoughts to myself and thought of the pride of playing for my family and my country.

I didn’t understand why I had to prove it with a gesture, when I live and learn and love people from all walks of life every day. When you are told what to do, with no discussion, I felt like it takes away the meaning. If I was racist, I could easily have taken the knee and lied, which is wrong and doesn’t build a better society.

Those who have grown up with me and played with me, know what type of person I am.

I’ve been called a lot of things as a cricketer. Doff. Stupid. Selfish. Immature. But those didn’t hurt. Being called a racist because of a misunderstanding hurts me deeply.

It hurts my family. It hurts my pregnant wife.

I am not a racist. In my heart of hearts, I know that. And I think those who know me know that.

I know I’m not great with words, but I’ve tried my best to explain how truly sorry I am for making like this is about me.

It is not.

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.

We had camps. We had sessions. We had zoom meetings. We know where we all stand. And that is together.

I love every one of my teammates, and I love nothing more than playing cricket for South Africa.

I think it would of been better for everyone concerned if we had sorted this out before the tournament started.

Then we could have focused on our job, to win cricket matches for our country.

There always seems to be a drama when we go to World Cups. That isn’t fair.

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.”

An explanation that de Kock should not have been forced to give. But the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.

But not all have been understanding of his change of position, with some in the media and politics believe he had capitulated and compromised his original stance.

There are several reasons why someone may choose to not bend the knee. Racism is only one.

As de Kock stated, he personally never felt the need to demonstrate his opposition in a physical symbolic manner. He grew up with racism, so his belief system needed no justification to others.

For others, the emphasis on choice is paramount. There are those who simply do not appreciate being told what to do by some authority who is the purveyor of social justice.

There are other personal, interpersonal, family, social and cultural reasons.

Those who accused him of racism, are now the bearers of forgiveness and tolerance.

It appears Cricket South Africa has also embraced de Kock. He has been re-instated in the cricket team, and subsequently had taken the knee against Sri Lanka.

Captain Temba Bavuma said, “The team is feeling much better than we were a couple of days ago,” he said.

“We’ve obviously had some time to get over everything that’s been happening.

“Quinton is in a much better state. But as a team we’re good. We’re ready for the game today.”

But is that really the end of the saga?

Are there any alternatives for the world of sport?

Yes. Ludo Aequitas. A global initiative promoting equality through sport and mental health.

Ludo Aequitas is a non-political charity whose aim is the elimination of discrimination based on race, colour, age, sex, gender, religion, disability and social status.

And to heal the trauma of these experiences that leads to mental illness.

Ludo Aequitas had its origins over seven years ago, addressing the UN’s concerns that not enough was being done in sport to combat racism, and what was being done was not working.

Ludo Aequitas has two main therapeutic arcs: the “Ludo Creed”, a statement of athlete’s commitment to equality, and the “Do The Ludo” behaviour, a symbolic gesture of unity and cohesion.

The behaviour is based on the gladiatorial stance where inequality was meaningless in the roman arena.

When originally promoted years ago, some criticised it for being too political, too aggressive.

How the world has change in the space of a few years.

Ludo Aequitas is not political. It uses a sporting framework to challenge and change perceptions and previously held belief systems.

What remains now is for the sporting world to catch up with a proposal that offers a peaceful compromise for all involved.

It is the only alternative to the bending the knee behaviour associated with BLM and other movements that polarise athletes.

 

Images via dailymail.co.uk & ludoaequitas.com

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