If the sun had set over Southampton on July 8, 2020, Michael Holding would have been ready to talk cricket. Instead, the clouds gathered, the rain drizzled and as England and the West Indies waited in the locker rooms at the Ageas Bowl, the world listened.
Holding’s words, carrying the power of decades of anger against institutionalized and systemic racism, were so well received that they inspired him to write a third book: Why we kneel, how we get up. But the same week he was shortlisted for William Hill’s Sports Book of the Year, not everyone was on their knees.
As South Africa prepared for their second match at the T20 World Cup, Quinton de Kock refused to kneel down following a directive from the Proteas board that all players would perform the gesture to the future. Their former captain then apologized, insisting he was “not racist”.
Holding, for whom T20 cricket is anathema, was not watching. Then the messages started pouring in. “I’ll never understand how anyone can say they believe black lives, Asian lives, and white lives and everyone’s lives are equal and they all matter – and then you have a situation where you try to prove that you believe it, and don’t take this opportunity, ”he said I.
“There is a gesture recognized and accepted around the world to show that you believe black lives matter, and that is what has happened since the murder of George Floyd. And you refuse to make this gesture? I will never understand how that can be the case. But I don’t know the young man well enough to draw any conclusions. I can only hope from his statement that he made a stupid mistake and realized the mistake of his manners and now will do what he should have done since the whole thing start.
In a statement, De Kock had sought to clarify that it was the directive from Cricket South Africa – that all players would be required to put on the knee – which he had initially objected to. The ASC declared to have long and seriously thought about the “freedom of choice” of the players, the reasoning inescapable of the defenders. Holding is not buying an argument.
“There’s no reason to stay on the fence with a situation like this. If you believe, you do what everyone else in the world does. If you don’t believe, don’t. But don’t pretend to believe it, then decide “I’m me, I’m going to do something different from the rest of the world.” And South Africa, especially with its history of apartheid, needed unity.
“When Mandela took control of South Africa and apartheid ended, Mandela did not say ‘we were treated horribly, we will seek revenge’. He said ‘let’s move forward as one’. So if you were happy to accept this mandate from Mandela, why can’t you now show that you agree with this philosophy? “
Cricket, Holding believes, is far behind. It is a consequence of the society from which it draws its participants: the players, the administrators, the supporters. “Each sport will look at itself and try to improve,” he supposes. “But until society changes, until we teach the true history of mankind and understand where racism comes from, why it appeared and why we need to change, we are not going anywhere. . “
It was appropriate then that his famous Air sports segment was filmed in England. He had heard racist comments in Australia, but the 1976 tour of England was the first time Holding and his West Indian teammates had received racist letters. “At the same time, we got a lot of good letters, people writing us for autographs, saying ‘we admire the cricket you play.’ And then the weird letter: ‘Why don’t you come back to where you are from ? “Monkey, go back to your trees.” We just threw them in the trash.
The ECB confirmed this week that it is still investigating the case of Azeem Rafiq in Yorkshire. Although he recently accepted that his former player was the victim of “racist harassment”, the club announced on Thursday that it would not take any action against any of its employees.
“If the ECB manages English cricket and is responsible for it, it must be able to do something about any situation that arises at national level”, believes Holding. “So either start the sport or go and quit the sport. You cannot leave it to a county to deal with such an important problem. It’s not a small problem – maybe they think it’s small, maybe they think it’s okay, so it’s okay – but if you want to lead sport, run it.
Even in light of these stories, the second half of Holding’s book – How we rise – is ultimately a question of hope. “I saw the change,” he recalls. “I can tell stories about people who have come to me and told me that their thinking and attitude has changed completely. And if that happens, we move forward. “