Tom Cartwright's withdrawal from the South Africa tour made way for Basil D'Oliveira's controversial inclusion
Tom Cartwright's withdrawal from the South Africa tour made way for Basil D'Oliveira's controversial inclusion
Cricketers don't do conscientious activism. But there have been honourable under-the-radar exceptions
Unforgivably belated it may have been, but better late than never. In the last week of September, the men responsible for the "Black Power" salute at the 1968 Olympic Games, the most iconic and significant political protest in sporting annals, were invited Chez Obama. It will have eluded all but the most vigilant that the 48th anniversary of another rare slice of sporting activism had occurred a few days earlier. In the Hall of Sporting Fame, Tommie Smith and John Carlos may find themselves gazing down at the late Tom Cartwright from a distant star, yet there is reason to contend that they are equals.
Being John Carlos not only means having been watched by millions and being feted by his president. It means being cheered at Occupy Wall Street. The sense of duty endures: the need, as Curtis Mayfield so plaintively put it, to keep on keeping on. Hence the lectures at universities and schools. Mention such avowed apolitical figures as Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, and Carlos defends their right to enjoy the fruits of resistance while excusing themselves from the front line, though he sometimes wonders "what they see when they look in the mirror".
Being Cartwright meant being able to look in the mirror without flinching. Before his death in 2007, being him meant being a key figure in the D'Oliveira Affair. Cartwright, a bowling allrounder then at Somerset, dropped out of the original party to make way for Basil D'Oliveira's late selection to tour his native South Africa, even though as a batting allrounder the latter was something less than a like-for-like substitute. Credit for that particular selectorial sleight of hand can only go to the public outcry that followed D'Oliveira's omission. No matter: the tour was cancelled because the South African prime minister, John Vorster, saw the revised party as "the team of the anti-apartheid movement". His young republic may already have been banned from the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup but being isolated from cricket was a deeper wound for those to whom apartheid was righteous.
Having segregated hotel entrances was "mind-boggling" to Cartwright. That "people could be so inhuman". Here was a country, he said, "without any human dignity at all"
"We're proud of them," said Barack Obama of Carlos and Smith. "Their powerful silent protest in the 1968 games was controversial, but it woke folks up and created greater opportunity for those that followed." There was no apology, sadly, for the fate of Smith and Carlos, both of whom were expelled instantly from the Games and returned home to rancour, and for some time found jobs elusive - even though their action was not, in fact, about pigmentation. As Carlos stressed patiently while we sat at my kitchen table in May 2012, the badge worn on the podium by the two Americans and Peter Norman, the white Australian 200m silver medalist, celebrated the Olympic Project for Human Rights.
"Black and white," Carlos elaborated vigorously. "It was about the poor in Brooklyn. It was about the stories my father told me about fighting in the First World War. It was about the terrible things he was asked to do for a freedom he was denied when he returned home. It was about him being told where he could live, where his kids could go to school, and how low the ceiling would be on his very life."
Carlos expressed but one regret: "I knew I'd cope, man, but I never considered the impact on my family." It contributed, he feels, to both his divorce and his troubled ex-wife's suicide.
Back where it all began: Basil D'Oliveira looks out over Cape Town from upper Bloem Street on Signal Hill, where he once lived, in 1995
© PA Photos
Back where it all began: Basil D'Oliveira looks out over Cape Town from upper Bloem Street on Signal Hill, where he once lived, in 1995 © PA Photos
If Cartwright had any regrets, it will not have been that he died without recognition; he was far too self-effacing for that. When I interviewed him for Wisden in 2006, ostensibly on another topic, there was no way I could resist congratulating him on what I had long perceived to have been his conscience-driven withdrawal from that 1968-69 tour. This was a view reinforced by a mutual friend, David Foot, who had written a discreetly revealing chapter about Cartwright in his book Fragments of Idolatry. At the time of our phone conversation, Cartwright was polite but firm, sheepishly denying my interpretation but not ridiculing it. A few months later we were due to talk about his newly published biography, this time at Cartwright's own request. This time he sounded almost enthusiastic about shedding fresh light on his role in the story. It remains my biggest professional regret that I did not make that call before he died shortly afterwards.
The official cause of Cartwright's withdrawal was a shoulder injury, but there were more extenuating factors, such as a young son who missed him sorely when he spent winters overseas. Yet what seems to have most affected Cartwright, he told biographer Stephen Chalke, was "a little news item" in the Daily Express, which reported that, when the Dolly-free MCC party was announced, National Party members at a congress in Bloemfontein stood and cheered. "When I read that," he recalled, "I went cold. And I started to wonder whether I wanted to be part of it."
Cartwright, who had toured South Africa four winters earlier, was an unusual cricketer: politically aware, a vocal Labour stalwart and a champion for players' rights, schooled in industrial relations at the car factory where he had once worked. In South Africa in 1964-65 he and the rest of the MCC party had tea with Hendrik Verwoerd, the father of apartheid, but what lingered even longer was discovering the living conditions endured by Joe, Cartwright's Cape Coloured driver. Having segregated hotel entrances was "mind-boggling" to Cartwright. That "people could be so inhuman". Here was a country, he told Chalke, "without any human dignity at all".
"It took county cricket to help break down my naïve attitude to racial matters. I remember my surprise at seeing white men cleaning the streets" Mike Procter
Confirmation that injury was not the cause of Cartwright's withdrawal came from the politician Peter Hain, organiser of countless anti-apartheid demonstrations on fields of play, including the Stop the Seventy Tour campaign. "Tom," he told me, "became a constituent of mine when I became MP for Neath, where he'd moved to and married a local girl. In 1991, my son Drake was training with Glamorgan youth, whom Tom was coaching, and we became friends. He told me that injury was not the reason he pulled out. Basically, he told the selectors he wouldn't be fit, but the point was, he didn't want to go." The case for a posthumous knighthood rests.
"No normal sport in an abnormal society." Such was the rallying cry of anti-apartheid activists. It is hard to think of another maxim that so perfectly encapsulates why sport and politics, above all sport and racial politics, have always been entwined.
As was confirmed in late August by the San Francisco 49ers' mixed-race quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who made a silent protest against racial inequality and police brutality in the NFL preseason by sitting, and later kneeling, during the national anthem. "Kaepernick is not disrespecting the military," asserted Adam Jones, an outfielder with baseball's Baltimore Orioles, while speaking to USA Today. "He's not disrespecting people who they're fighting. What he's doing is showing that he doesn't like the social injustice that the flag represents."
Colin Kaepernick (right) and Eric Reid of the San Francisco 49ers kneel while the national anthem plays before the game against the Carolina Panthers, in September
© Getty Images
Colin Kaepernick (right) and Eric Reid of the San Francisco 49ers kneel while the national anthem plays before the game against the Carolina Panthers, in September © Getty Images
For his first game of the season, reported Dave Zirin of the Nation, American sportswriting's "conscience-in-chief" according to the Washington Post, Kaepernick turned up in a Muhammad Ali T-shirt and full Afro; not every spectator was impressed. On sale were T-shirts showing him with a rifle scope aimed at his body and the tagline "WANTED: Notorious Disgrace to America". White fans in fake Afros were caught on camera spear-tackling effigies of Kaepernick; another was taped on social media roaring, "Tackle the Muslim!"
By now, other dissidents had followed suit. Come anthem time, Zirin wrote:
"…Kaepernick took a knee with two teammates, linebacker Eli Harold, and safety Eric Reid. Fitting for this anniversary of 1968, cornerbacks Keith Reaser and Rashard Robinson, safeties Jaquiski Tartt and Antoine Bethea, and running back Mike Davis raised their fists. As Kaepernick kneeled, Buffalo fans chanted 'USA,' less as a point of pride than a threat… A friend's parents who were at the game said to me, 'It was scary. It was the closest I will ever come to being at a Trump rally.' A beer bottle was allegedly thrown at Kaepernick, but it did not connect."
That Kaepernick's example was not followed in Major League Baseball - the sport in which Jackie Robinson made his historic breakthrough in 1947 - undoubtedly had something to do with demographics: while 68% of NFL players are African-American and the NBA share is 74%, the MLB equivalent is just 8%. "We already have two strikes against us already,'' Jones, one of that 8%, told USA Today, "so you might as well not kick yourself out of the game. In football, you can't kick them out. You need those players. In baseball, they don't need us. Baseball is a white man's sport." The same, of course, can hardly be said of cricket.
In a decade that has seen Steven Davies come out as the first active gay international cricketer, much more, for instance, could be said and done about homophobia
While cricket, like the NFL and baseball, has had plenty of player unrest down the years, from the 1896 strike at The Oval to the recent stance of the West Indies Players Association, arguably the most virile union of its type, the topic has always been money. Beyond that, what activism there has been was most conspicuous during the apartheid era, which tormented black South Africans from 1948 to 1991, and especially during the D'Oliveira Affair. Perhaps, given the game's historic conservatism and the punishment that may ensue, we should not be surprised that few recent players - Henry Olonga and Andy Flower, Nasser Hussain, Stuart MacGill and Moeen Ali - have stood up for their beliefs. That said, the likes of Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, and Michael Holding all did their bit and more by declining potentially life-changing offers to tour South Africa.
Tellingly, the first cricketer to go public with his objections to playing South Africa was an amateur with more motivation than most to do the right thing: the Reverend David Sheppard, then of Sussex and England, later the Bishop of Liverpool, whom I was fortunate enough to interview twice in the summer of 1998, at his home, and on one of those divine afternoons for which the deckchairs at Hove were conceived.
The year was 1960, and the only decision he had to make was not whether he would play against these flag-wavers for apartheid, but whether to explain why. "I knew that black Christians all over Africa were being taunted that Christianity was just a white man's trick to maintain white supremacy. South Africa claimed to be the most Christian country in the world. The motivation for me going public was to say, 'Here's at least one Christian who can't be a part, won't be a part of that system.'
David Sheppard (third from left) was perhaps the first cricketer to speak out against playing apartheid South Africa
© Getty Images
David Sheppard (third from left) was perhaps the first cricketer to speak out against playing apartheid South Africa © Getty Images
"At the time I was a member of the MCC Committee, who in a real sense were the hosts of the tour. I asked the president, Harry Altham, if I could explain my motives to the Committee. One of the older members, [the former England captain] Colonel RT Stanyforth, protested furiously, saying that this was political, and quite improper. Harry rebuked him and said I had a perfect right to explain what was a matter of conscience."
Among the saddest sporting consequences of apartheid was that being isolated meant the Test circuit was deprived of brilliant talents such as Eddie Barlow, Barry Richards, Mike Procter, Denis Lindsay and the Pollocks, Graeme and Peter. That said, D'Oliveira himself had no sympathy, arguing that non-whites such as himself never had the chance to even play provincial cricket.
"Like most white South Africans of that period, I had been brainwashed as a boy," recalled Procter in South Africa: The Years of Isolation. "It took county cricket to help break down my naïve attitude to racial matters. I remember my surprise at seeing white men cleaning the streets, emptying dustbins and taking train tickets. Playing against men of the stature of Clive Lloyd, Basil D'Oliveira and Garry Sobers brought home to me that colour should not be the deciding factor: what's inside the body is more important."
If Kaepernick has a cricketing equivalent, it is Moeen Ali, who wore wristbands reading "Save Gaza" and "Free Palestine" in the Southampton Test of 2014
Thus it was, in April 1971, that Procter and Co resolved to take a stand against the Pretoria government's decision to turn down flat the South African Cricket Association's idea of including two non-whites in the party to tour Australia. "It was all we talked about on the eve of the match at Newlands, which was, in effect, a Test trial. Over dinner that night we discussed what we could do to publicly register our dismay at the government. Lindsay, the Pollock brothers and I wondered if we should refuse to play. We were talked out of that - too extreme, and likely to alienate those whose support we needed. We decided to walk off at a certain stage, hand in a statement to the press then go back on the field. Both sets of players agreed to the plan and after I bowled one ball at Barry Richards, we all trooped off."
The statement read as follows:
"We cricketers feel that the time has come for an expression of our views. We fully support the South African Cricket Association's application to include non-whites on the tour to Australia if good enough, and, furthermore, subscribe to merit being the only criterion on the cricket field."
It says much for the prevailing mindset further up the food chain that the players' invitation to a barbecue organised by the Minister of Sport was abruptly withdrawn.
"The Afrikaaner press had a field day, accusing us of unpatriotic behaviour, thereby missing the point," reflected Procter. "We wanted the politicians to realise that it was about time we had equality of opportunity on the sporting field. We had shown that we were prepared to play with and against anybody, and if that led to an improvement in our country's racial policy in future, all the better. For the moment it was a sporting demonstration, but the politicians couldn't see it that way." Procter and others have since conceded that they might have done more, but at least they did something.
The Black Power salute at the 1968 Mexico Olympics. John Carlos later said that the gesture wasn't about racial issues
© Getty Images
The Black Power salute at the 1968 Mexico Olympics. John Carlos later said that the gesture wasn't about racial issues © Getty Images
So why does cricket not have its fair share of Kaepernicks? Leaving aside fear of fines and a young athlete's natural indifference to global realpolitik, it certainly doesn't help when you spend so much time in a bubble, shuttling from one land to the next as if on a military expedition, seldom seeing beyond the next day.
It's not as if there aren't causes worth supporting. In a decade that has seen Steven Davies come out as the first active gay international cricketer, much more, for instance, could be said and done about homophobia. How depressing to note that Cricket Australia originally refused to sign a letter agreeing to incorporate anti-homophobia policy, relenting only after this was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald.
In short, it's all about the brand. Fear of inciting controversy or causing offence to broadcasters and sponsors has bred a clampdown on freedom of speech, a right enshrined, by contrast, in the US constitution. Tim May, the former chief executive of the Federation of International Cricket Associations, admits to being at a loss. "Our sport should be advocating and fighting issues for racism, homophobia and other social issues, and back in my day I urged administrators and players to realise our responsibility [and platform] to promote these issues, but I don't really know why no one buys in - whether it's selfishness, unawareness or just not thinking that they have a responsibility in this area."
All the more reason to regret that, when the Professional Cricketers' Association tried to set up a website for him, Davies resisted. How, though, can you blame him? In the age of antisocial media, which at once empowers and exposes players as never before, it feels insensitive to criticise him for trying to get his career back on track without unhelpful distractions.
In short, it's all about the brand. Fear of inciting controversy or causing offence to broadcasters and sponsors has bred a clampdown on freedom of speech
If Kaepernick does have a cricketing equivalent, it is Moeen Ali, whose decision to wear wristbands reading "Save Gaza" and "Free Palestine" in the Southampton Test of 2014 was clearly that of a man who feels strongly enough about a cause to risk public wrath and the lash of authority. All the same, in insisting that it was a humanitarian rather than political gesture, keeping him within board and ICC guidelines, he blurred a wafer-thin line.
David Boon, the match referee, instructed Moeen to remove the bands, reminding him of the ICC clothing and equipment regulations:
"Players and team officials shall not be permitted to wear, display or otherwise convey messages through armbands or other items affixed to clothing or equipment unless approved in advance by the player or team official's Board. Approval shall not be granted for messages which relate to political, religious or racial activities or causes."
Boon also stressed to Moeen that, while individuals are free to make political - or humanitarian - statements in their private lives, such freedom does not extend to international cricket.
Consistency, more worryingly, remains elusive. During the same match the home team wore the Help for Heroes logo on their collars, drawing attention to crippled or disabled servicemen: yes, Help for Heroes declares itself to be humanitarian, but it does not feel irrational to argue that the logo is a political statement, implicitly endorsing Britain's military excursions irrespective of validity. So far as I know, not a single eyelash was batted in ICC Towers.
Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton. His latest book is Floodlights and Touchlines: A History of Spectator Sport
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