OPINION | Union MyPlayers' tone-deaf response on Black Lives Matter problematic for SA Rugby

Andile Phehlukwayo of Takealot Eagles celebrates the wicket of Heinrich Klaasen of OUTsurance Kingfishers during the 3TC Solidarity Cup match between Mr D Food Kites, OUTsurance Kingfishers and Takealot Eagles at SuperSport Park in July 18, 2020 in Pretoria, South Africa.
Andile Phehlukwayo of Takealot Eagles celebrates the wicket of Heinrich Klaasen of OUTsurance Kingfishers during the 3TC Solidarity Cup match between Mr D Food Kites, OUTsurance Kingfishers and Takealot Eagles at SuperSport Park in July 18, 2020 in Pretoria, South Africa.
Image: Lee Warren/Gallo Images

When rugby players union MyPlayers released a statement on Wednesday‚ one particular paragraph was resonant.

It read: “As a diverse and inclusive professional body that represents all South Africans and its communities when our members are on the rugby field playing for the Springboks and the various other national and provincial teams‚ MyPlayers has no intention and mandate to take a collective position on any cause that may lead to divisions among its members‚ rugby supporters and the public at large.”

Juxtapose with the South African Cricketer’s Association’s unequivocal stance in their support of Lungi Ngidi in July where Saca said:” The South African Cricketers’ Association (SACA) today recorded their strong support for Lungi and his right to Freedom of Expression.”

In both statements‚ the unions espoused the constitutionally held and protected values of freedom of speech‚ belief and religions. That’s where the first similarity ends.

The second similarity also lies in the fact that both unions represent a large number of white players. Their rather different responses to the same matter highlight the vastness of the transformational mindsets of the organisations.

It’s true that cricket went through the thresher recently with a number of current and former players coming out with painful discrimination stories; disappointing considering the transformation strides the game of cricket thought it had made.

The rugby front has been quieter‚ but glacial transformation pace has been well-reported; from executive level‚ management‚ coaching and playing spheres. It was an unexpected breath of fresh air when SA Rugby chief executive officer Jurie Roux was strong in his pro-Black Lives Matter position. This is why MyPlayers’ stance leaves a lot to be desired.

The attackers and defenders of the South African players who didn’t take the knee in the Premiership have their own hills to die on. However‚ rugby’s disdainful treatment of black people‚ players and coaches can’t be forgotten for it lingers on. It still remains as such that South Africa’s Super Rugby franchises don’t have a black head coach in their employ.

While it’s understood that MyPlayers could be taking the wide and wavy road by not taking a stance‚ it’s also worrying that they haven’t.

When Springbok Sevens player Siviwe “Shakes” Soyizwapi posted a picture on Facebook of his rugby boots with #blacklivesmatter engraved on them‚ the comments section predictably went wild with some bottom drawer statements. While that madness can’t be policed‚ a collective organisation can’t afford to be seen not to be acting.

“In light of a number of recent campaigns in sport‚ including rugby‚ where individuals and teams have taken a stand on certain events and movements‚” was the opening line in the statement‚ a line laced with tone-deafness.

The fact that MyPlayers weren’t able to mention Black Lives Matters in that line is parallel with the message SA Rugby sent out recently with their firm support. It’s true that South Africa has a myriad of social problems that require urgent attention‚ but the recognition of the fact the black life has always been the cheapest in this country can’t be understated. Again‚ this week in the United States‚ an unarmed black man was shot by the police.

MyPlayers also represents black players and that statement‚ whether they’re in solidarity of the movement or not‚ seemingly neuters their voices and feelings. If this is what they call solidarity‚ then it’s a very warped idea of it and one that needs better care and research.

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