Ken Borland

By Ken Borland

Journalist


Opportunity is the key to equality, says Proteas icon Philander

While he says he experienced no racism during his time in the Proteas team, South African bowling great Vernon Philander's support for the Black Lives Matter movement is based on what he classifies as "inequality" in the cricket system.


Philander was one of 30 former Proteas players who signed a letter last week supporting BLM and calling on Cricket South Africa to confront the problem of racial division in the sport.

The 35-year-old paceman retired from international cricket at the end of the national team’s Test series against England in January, with outstanding figures of 224 wickets in 64 matches, at an average of just 22.32.

“BLM has a totally different meaning in South Africa than abroad. Here it stands for equality and respecting peoples’ views, everyone’s, regardless of the colour of their skin,” Philander said.

“Those questions of inequality are still relevant today, if not worse. I support other causes like (the stand against) white farmers being murdered just as much, but we’re not discounting one cause to support the other.

“We need to provide a lot more opportunities, we need to start building communities again. For me, transformation has been done completely wrong because we have taken black cricketers out of their safety zones, out of their own clubs and schools.

“We need to restore dignity to these communities, give them facilities and coaches, and provide the people with opportunities to enhance their lives with job creation.”

Philander is one of the best fast bowlers to have represented the SA team. Picture: Lee Warren/Gallo Images

Philander, from the humble Cape Town suburb of Ravensmead, had to fight tremendously hard for every bit of the considerable success he enjoyed in his career.

He was initially chosen for South Africa in limited-overs cricket in 2007, but in spite of being the dominant bowler in the domestic game after spearheading the Cape Cobras’ drive to successive four-day titles in 2009/10 and 2010/11, he had to wait until November 2011 to firmly establish his place in the Test side.

His impact was immediate and stunning, but not a surprise to those who had seen him make up for a lack of sheer pace with extraordinary skill and accuracy in franchise cricket.

“When I started playing, things were more chilled, although there were one or two incidents in club cricket that caused a lot of upset people, mostly involving players of the older generation,” he said.

“I cannot vouch for any racism in the Proteas, although being left out after 2007 without explanation was pretty hard, and my experience in the 2015 World Cup showed me that they needed to protect the players much better.

“The whole team lost, and we need to move past this business of blaming transformation or two or three players.”

The key issue for Philander was the inequality that made it much harder for black players to reach the heights he did.

“We need to see the injustices and understand that they are still happening today. We want this to be a country for everyone, but then there needs to be opportunity for everyone.

“My background was very poor and the time is now to speak up, without hatred, but acknowledging that inequality is the big thing. We need to change mindsets and perceptions.

“It will take a massive effort, including from our white counterparts, but if we give all cricketers the same opportunity then we can take the best out of that and the team will really be chosen on merit.

“This is not about dropping standards, but we need to rebuild communities in order for them to compete on equal ground. We need to close the gaps in terms of facilities and coaching.”

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