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De Kock to join South Africa teammates in taking knee after issuing apology

Quinton de Kock will join the rest of his teammates in taking the knee if he is selected again for South Africa. The wicketkeeper-batter released a statement on Thursday offering his side of a story that has threatened to derail his team’s slim hopes of success at the T20 World Cup.

On Tuesday morning, hours before the Proteas’ game against West Indies, Cricket South Africa issued a directive instructing the players to kneel in a show of solidarity with the global Black Lives Matter movement. This came after an image of disharmony was displayed before their opening match against Australia in which three white players – Heinrich Klaasen, Anrich Nortje and De Kock – stood while the rest kneeled.

Speaking to the South African radio host Eusebius McKaizer on Wednesday, theCSA board chair, Lawson Naidoo, said: “Voluntarism would have been the ideal situation. That’s why we allowed the players the time and the space to try and come to that conclusion themselves. They were unable to do so, and therefore it was necessary for the board to make this intervention.”

An ultimatum was issued: bend the knee or sit on the bench. The captain, Temba Bavuma, later revealed that none of the players were consulted. With little time to think they were forced into a snap decision. De Kock was the only one who refused to budge.

This act – construed as either a gesture of defiance in the fight for racial equality or as a martyr’s response to a draconian diktat – came at a time of cultural turmoil in South African cricket. In July this year, CSA launched the social justice and nation-building (SJN) hearings in an effort to diagnose and then treat the poor health of the game in the country.

Testimonies, which are still being heard, included an account from Makhaya Ntini, the first Black African to play for South Africa, who spoke of feelings of alienation in the dressing room because of the colour of his skin. The former spin bowler Paul Adams – a “Coloured” man according to his country’s racial classification – shared a painful memory of being called “brown shit” in a team song which the current coach, Mark Boucher, admitted to singing along with. Other witnesses have conveyed a systemic problem running throughout the game’s hierarchy.

In light of brewing anger at home, De Kock supplied an explanation through CSA’s media channels. He apologised to his teammates and the fans. He stated that he understood the importance of “standing against racism” and the responsibility he carried as an athlete. He was “more than happy” to take the knee if it would help “educate others, and make the lives of others better”.

He intimated that his early resistance was motivated by a libertarian view that no organisation, even one representing a nation on a sports field, has the right to dictate to its employees how they must behave. He batted away accusations that he is a racist by pointing to the multiracial makeup of his family, though he asserted: “It would of [sic] been better for everyone concerned if we had sorted this out before the tournament started.”

He concluded by praising Bavuma, who has emerged as a composed captain. “People might not recognise, but he is a flipping amazing leader,” De Kock said of his skipper, who on Tuesday faced a digital press conference baying for an explanation and responded with grace. “You have to respect [De Kock’s position], whether you agree with it or not,” Bavuma said. “I can’t force anyone to see things the way that I do.”

Shorn of AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis, De Kock is the most experienced member of South Africa’s batting unit. Having consented to kneel, questions will be asked over his selection. “If [Bavuma] and the team, and South Africa, will have me, I would love nothing more than to play cricket for my country again,” he said.