Political leaders criticise sports minister for threatening players
Eight South African players — including World Cup winners Faf de Klerk and Lood de Jager — took a stand against racism by wearing “Rugby Against Racism” T-shirts before an English Premiership match at the weekend but they were among 11 members of the Sale Sharks starting lineup who refused to kneel in support of the controversial Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.
Their stance before their match against Harelquins at an empty Twickenham stadium at the restart of Premiership rugby after a five-months break due to the Covid-19 pandemic prompted South African Minister of Sport Nathi Mthethwa to ask SA Rugby to make a pronouncement on why the SA players failed to kneel during a BLM solidarity campaign.
Mthetwa said he did not want to jump the gun on the matter before hearing from SA Rugby. But he said the whole country united behind the Springboks during the World Cup in Japan last year and the actions of those who are displaying “racist behaviour and showing racist attitude” will not be tolerated.
The sports minister’s remarks were called “out of order” by ACDP president Rev Kenneth Meshoe and “unconstitutional” by FF Plus leader Dr Pieter Grunewald during a parliamentary debate on the BLM movement during a virtual sitting of the National Assembly on Tuesday.
Those who did not kneel are Faf de Klerk, Lood de Jager‚ twins Jean-Luc and Daniel du Preez‚ their older brother Robert‚ Akker van der Merwe‚ Coenie Oosthuizen and club captain Jono Ross. England centre Manu Tuilagi, Welsh prop Will Griff John and Scotland wing Byron McGuignon, who was born in Namibia, also remained standing while four of their teammates and the whole Harlequins squad kneeled.
Similar scenes — with all players wearing shirts with slogans but with some standing and others kneeling — were reported from other venues at the weekend. Premiership Rugby were criticised earlier last week for not taking a lead in deciding the league’s anti-racism position, which saw Exeter Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter criticise officials for “hanging the players out to dry” and former England wing Ugo Monye warning that it should not be assumed that people who refused to kneel are racist.
Prior to Friday’s opener, Sale Sharks captain South African Jono Ross said that his side were united in being opposed to racism in all forms.
“As a squad, we are all completely against racism in all forms, and I think we’ll make that clear on Friday,’ he said via The Independent. ‘I don’t think anyone in our squad or across the Premiership is racist.
While Rugby SA has yet to comment on the matter, it seems likely that players who are strong Christians would have objected to pressure to kneel in solidarity with the anti-Christian BLM organisation which has been accused by some of hijacking the legitimate call to acknowledge that Black lives matter and that Black people continue to suffer from expressions of racism in society.
Indeed, England and Saracens No 8 Billy Vunipola, who refused to kneel before the Saracens-Bristol game at the weekend said he did so because he considers elements of the BLM organisation to be at odds with his Christian beliefs.
In Tuesday’s BLM parliamentary debate Rev Meshoe said Mthethwa was out of order for threatening the eight SA rugby players who refused to bend their knee for BLM while ignoring the fact that they were wearing jerseys saying “Rugby Against Racism.”
“No one, particularly believers in Christ, should ever be forced to bow their knee before strange gods,” said Meshoe. Earlier in his speech he said that Patrice Cullors, co-founder of the BLM movement and Melina Abdullah, who is co-founder of BLM in Los Angeles, both said that the organisation is a spiritual movement.
“Speaker, this [BLM being a spiritual movement] is one of the main reasons why the ACDP will never support a racist, divisive, violent movement such as BLM that promotes anarchy and lawlessness in society. Our values as believers who believe in the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, are at odds with BLM’s liberal values, that reportedly include appeasing the dead through rituals such as libations in their meetings,” he said.
In July, Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier, the archbishop of Durban, joined a growing group of Christian and black leaders to criticise BLM for its renunciation of the nuclear family and total embrace of the radical LGBT agenda. He said the BLM movement is “committed to dismantling the very values, structure and institutions” central to a healthy society.
US basketball star and committed Christian Jonathan Isaac was in the news on August 1 when he became the first high-profile sports star to make the point that opposing racism did not require endorsing the BLM movement as he became the only Orlando Magic player who didn’t wear a BLM shirt and kneel during the national anthem at the restart of the NBA season after it was disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
He explained: “I believe that Black Lives Matter. Kneeling while wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt doesn’t go hand-in-hand with supporting black lives.
“I support Black lives but not that way. My life has been supported by Jesus Christ. The gospel gives us force.
“I knew it was going to be a tough decision, one that people would have questioned. I’ve leaned on God’s Word and His plan for me.
“People have opinions, but I took my decision.
“We’re protesting and doing things to get something done. But we need to see all the things and all the answers are in the word of Jesus.”
The Black Lives Matter movement has swept the globe since the pandemic began, after an African-American man George Floyd was killed by a white policeman in Minneapolis on May 24 during an arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit bill.
But the BLM organisation’s credibility as a standard-bearer for opposing racism has been under increasing scrutiny despite mainstream media in the US downplaying violence and destruction at BLM protests. The organisation’s image has been further tarnished by recent acts of extreme violence by BLM protesters and by BLM organisation leaders justifying looting of businesses.
Hopefully sports, political, cultural and religious leaders in SA will not bow to pressure to equate BLM movement support with non-racialism and will contribute to a culture in which South Africans learn to hear and respect each other.