With his hands aloft, former president Nelson Mandela beamed from ear-to-ear as Springbok captain Francois Pienaar picked up the Rugby World Cup back in 1995. It’s an iconic image, etched into the minds of millions around the world, heralded as a move to promote nation building, just a few months on from our first democratic election.
Madiba Magic, as his influence became known, touched mainstream sport just as the building blocks of the professional era were being laid.
His quote on sport’s power to change the world is well documented, profound and eternal. So often, I hear the phrase, ‘leave politics out of sport’.
It is an absurd claim, totally ludicrous in my mind, because they are so intrinsically connected. There has always been a connection between the two and at the advent of democracy, the unification of sporting bodies laid bare the need to work together.
Sport does not operate in isolation. It is a microcosm of society, and in a country as diverse as ours, it must represent a symbol of hope.
I do not want to get into the details of Cricket South Africa’s decision to order players to take a knee hours before a World Cup game, but Quinton De Kock’s decision to make himself unavailable is a glaring example of our differences.
We’ve been down this road many times before. The Black Lives Matter movement in no way implies that the lives of people of colour matter more; it simply means that their lives matter. It is as simple as that.
The movement does not advocate for greater care or privilege for black lives, it simply calls for equality. All lives, human lives… that’s exactly what the BLM movement is crying out for.
Massive strides have been made over the past two decades, but sport’s representation of our country remains poor.
Cricket remains an elite sport, available to a select few, and so the onus to promote its unifying force rests on the shoulders of administrators and players.
A message of inclusivity is vital across the board and starts with the cream of the crop, the Proteas.
The Proteas are a professional setup with players remunerated well for their efforts.
Positive results are a must from an expectant fan base, but playing for the national team goes well beyond the realms of a day job. It is a privilege and honour to wear the colours of our beautiful nation – a complex nation where the have-nots hopelessly outweigh the haves.
Taking the knee is a show of empathy at the least, and whether or not this message has been adequately communicated to the players by CSA is a discussion for another day.
Youngsters idolise our players. They aspire to play like them, and dream of representing their nation one day.
These players represent everyday South Africans, so why do some of them feel exempt from taking on the small task of supporting equality. Is that too much to ask for?
I can’t help but think about the hundreds of talented players of colour who were robbed of representing South Africa pre-democracy because of draconian laws.
Do those who so loudly ask for politics to be left out of sport understand the gross injustices of our past, or merely acknowledge it?
On the grandest of stages, this is an opportunity to provide hope where there is so little, to add to the voices in the room calling for change after centuries of institutionalised racism.
Mandela was acutely aware of the interconnected nature of sport and politics. Almost thirty years on, our fight for freedom continues and sport must play it’s part if it is as human as it claims.
I sincerely hope that the Proteas are inspired by this development and come together as a team.
It may not be at this World Cup but the greater narrative and its power, will inspire generations to come.
There are multimillion dollar leagues in full flight around the world, if you want a well-paying job, take your talent there.
- Myron Naicker is an award-winning journalist with over a decade of experience. He has documented the sport of cricket at all levels and has covered the Proteas extensively, both locally and internationally.