Quinton de Kock withdraws from South Africa-West Indies match after refusing to take knee

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Quinton de Kock withdraws from South Africa-West Indies match after refusing to take knee - GETTY IMAGES
Quinton de Kock withdraws from South Africa-West Indies match after refusing to take knee - GETTY IMAGES

Quinton de Kock has withdrawn from South Africa's T20 World Cup match against the West Indies after refusing team orders to take the knee.

The opening batter made a "personal decision" not to participate in the anti-racism gesture hours after Cricket South Africa issued a directive instructing players to support it.

It means de Kock has become the first professional sportsperson to withdraw from competition over a refusal to take the knee and throws his international future into doubt.

Cricket South Africa confirmed players will be expected to take a knee during the team’s remaining matches in the T20 World Cup.

"Cricket South Africa has noted the personal decision by South African wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock not to 'take the knee' ahead of Tuesday’s game against the West Indies," a board statement said.

"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.

"This is also the global gesture against racism that has been adopted by sportspeople across sporting codes because they recognise the power of sport to bring people together.

"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 Africa captain Temba Bavuma takes the knee ahead of the Pakistan and South Africa warm Up Match prior to the ICC Men's T20 World Cup at on October 20, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. - GETTY IMAGES
South Africa captain Temba Bavuma takes the knee ahead of the Pakistan and South Africa warm Up Match prior to the ICC Men's T20 World Cup at on October 20, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. - GETTY IMAGES

On the issue of de Kock's future, the board said it will wait to speak to management "before deciding next steps".

The board decided that it should be mandatory for all players to take the knee at a meeting on Monday, with the decision relayed to the players before Tuesday’s game with the West Indies.

"All players are expected to follow this directive for the remaining games of the World Cup," a Cricket South Africa statement said. "CSA thanks all other Proteas players for agreeing to unite and make such an important public stand against racism."

At the toss, South Africa captain Temba Bavuma explained de Kock was unavailable for "personal reasons". When contacted by Telegraph Sport, the Cricket South Africa board said it had not spoken with de Kock prior to his withdrawal.

The match was the first in which Cricket South Africa asked all players to take the knee to express their opposition to racism.

Taking the knee has been a vexed issue in South African cricket since the Black Lives Matter movement became more prominent last year, after the murder of George Floyd by a policeman in the USA.

Cricket South Africa had previously allowed players to either take a knee, raise a fist or stand to attention before matches. During the tour of the West Indies earlier this year, De Kock had been the only player not to do any of these three options, attracting criticism from anti-racism campaigners.  

"I'll keep my reasons to myself and it is my own personal opinion," De Kock said at the time.

In their opening T20 World Cup match, against Australia, not all South Africa players took the knee while all members of the Australia side did. Most sides in the tournament to date have taken the knee before matches.

Players of South Africa take the knee ahead of the ICC Men's T20 World Cup match between Australia and SA at Sheikh Zayed stadium on October 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. - GETTY IMAGES
Players of South Africa take the knee ahead of the ICC Men's T20 World Cup match between Australia and SA at Sheikh Zayed stadium on October 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. - GETTY IMAGES

Following the new guidance, the playing XI that faced the West Indies all took the knee.

South Africa's Heinrich Klaasen takes the knee before the match. - REUTERS
South Africa's Heinrich Klaasen takes the knee before the match. - REUTERS

"Concerns were raised that the different postures taken by team members in support of the BLM initiative created an unintended perception of disparity or lack of support for the initiative," a Cricket South Africa statement said before the match with the West Indies.

"After considering all relevant issues, including the position of the players, the Board felt that it was imperative for the team to be seen taking a united and consistent stand against racism, especially given SA's history. 

"Several other teams at the World Cup have adopted a consistent stance against the issue, and the Board felt it is time for all SA players to do the same."

The former South African captain's absence reignited discussions around taking the knee before the T20 World Cup, with some criticising the decision not to support the gesture

"As my mother always said, you've got to stand for something, or you'll fall for anything," ex-West Indies captain Daren Sammy said. |"Sometimes I don't understand: why is it so difficult to support this movement, if you understand what it stands for?"

Former Zimbabwe international Pommie Mbangwa, who was also commentating, said: "I cannot shed the colour of my skin."

He also spoke of the "need" for South Africa to "at least" be "united" on something "the world agrees on", because "this is a country with a history of racism and exclusion."

Former England captain Michael Vaughan suggested de Kock should not lose his place over his stance on taking the knee.

He tweeted: "Surely it’s down to the individual to decide whether he or she wants to be involved in any movement … A Cricket board should request players to do it but if that individual decides they don’t want too it should not stop them playing the game of Cricket …"

England's T20 vice-captain Jos Buttler indicated players will continue with the anti-racism gesture in Wednesday's match against Bangladesh.

He said: "Our position as a team is we stand against any form of discrimination. What we'd like to do as a team is a moment of unity which we did at times during our summer.

"We wanted to reciprocate the opposition, the West Indies like to take a knee so we wanted to reciprocate that in the first game.

If de Kock is unavailable for the remainder of the tournament, South Africa face having to select from a reduced 14-man squad, with it seeming highly unlikely that the International Cricket Council would permit South Africa to select a replacement player in the circumstances.

Why taking the knee is such a divisive issue for Cricket South Africa

by Tim Wigmore

When Quinton de Kock pulled out of South Africa’s side for their T20 World Cup match against the West Indies because he did not want to join his team-mates in taking the knee, it was another chapter in a never-ending story: the fraught, intertwined relationship between sports and politics in South Africa.

During apartheid, the South African government desperately sought the legitimacy that the sporting pitch could provide. They were desperate to continue playing normal international sport - and then, when the team was banned from official international cricket - and later rugby - they organised rebel tours to entice foreign teams. One year after his election as South Africa’s first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela wore a Springbok shirt at the Rugby World Cup final in 1995, a moment that seemed to symbolise the power of sport to help bring unity to South African society.

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The notion has been severely tested in recent years. While there have been moments when sport has seemed to galvanise South Africa - above all, Siya Kolisi lifting the Rugby World Cup two years ago - more often it has offered a mirror to a deeply troubled, fractured society.

In cricket, these divisions have never been more apparent than in the last 18 months. The murder of George Floyd by a police officer in May 2020 gave new impetus to the global Black Lives Matter movement. When South Africa’s cricketers returned to the pitch, they were immediately confronted with how to address the movement’s protests against racial injustice.

“It’s something that we need to take seriously, like the rest of the world is doing,” fast bowler Lungi Ngidi said in July last year. He thought it was an uncontroversial response to a question about Black Lives Matter. Instead, it sparked a bitter rift within the South African game, as four prominent white former players attacked his comments, accusing Ngidi of ignoring the plight of white South African farmers being attacked.

In July, Cricket South Africa launched their Social Justice and Nation-Building hearings, which aimed to uncover exactly what South African cricket has been like since readmission in 1992. The findings from the hearing, which is still ongoing, have been shocking. One young player in the domestic game had his face painted white by a coach because he had dirty boots. Ashwell Prince, South Africa’s first person of colour to captain the country in a Test match, was called a "quota player" by team-mates. Paul Adams, who played 45 Test matches from 1995-2004, was nicknamed "brown s—”; the phrase was sung in a team song. Mark Boucher, who is now South Africa’s head coach, has admitted to singing along.

As these revelations have emerged, a debate has been swirling around whether South Africa’s cricketers should follow the lead of other sports teams around the world in taking the knee.

Unlike with many countries, South Africa did not take the knee in their first matches after Floyd’s death. Instead, the side initially took what was described as a team decision to wear black armbands, remembering both those who had died during the pandemic and offering support for a campaign to raise awareness about violence against women.

But the question of whether the team should take the knee never went away. During the tour of the Caribbean in July, all players were given the option of whether or not to take the knee.

Cricket South Africa had previously allowed players to either take a knee, raise a fist or stand to attention before matches. During the tour of the West Indies earlier this year, De Kock had been the only player not to do any of these three options, attracting criticism from anti-racism campaigners. "I'll keep my reasons to myself and it is my own personal opinion,” De Kock said at the time.

The differing options on taking the knee manifested themselves before South Africa’s World Cup opener, against Australia. While all Australian players took the knee, only eight South African players did - de Kock, Anrich Nortje and batsman Heinrich Klaasen all stood with their hands by their side.

This sight of a lack of unity led to Cricket South Africa deciding, in their board meeting on Monday, that all players should be mandated to take the knee in the remainder of their World Cup campaign. And while Nortje and Klaasen took the knee along with all their team-mates, de Kock refused to, pulling out of the match. Unless he changes his stance, he will not play again in the World Cup.

De Kock’s reasons - which still haven’t been revealed - now mean the international future of the finest South African batsman of his generation is in jeopardy. “We can't escape the consequences of the choices and decisions that we make,” Temba Bavuma, South Africa’s captain said in his press conference.

“It’s nice to have a cricket question,” Bavuma said after a rare question that addressed his side’s impressive eight-wicket win. But South African cricket has never been runs and wickets alone.

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