Jonty Rhodes strongly believes that the long-standing administrative crisis in South African cricket is responsible for the national team’s inconsistency and acknowledged that “racial inequality” remains a part of the country’s ecosystem.
Cricket South Africa (CSA) is facing financial troubles and allegations of racial discrimination from its players. President Chris Nenzani resigned last month after a seven-year reign marred by corruption allegations. Amid the dark times, there is hope in the form of South Africa’s most successful captain Graeme Smith, who is currently the director of cricket at CSA.
“Graeme Smith has got a lot of criticism of late but he was the captain of the team that had the first ever team culture camp and came up with the ‘Protea Fire’,” Rhodes told PTI, referring to the 2014 campaign which focussed on humility, resilience, adaptability, unity and respect in the team as an ambassador of the nation.
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In the wake of racism allegations by 30 former South Africa players including Ashwell Prince and Makhaya Ntini, an extended national squad of 32 had a “culture camp” last month.
Rhodes, who is in Dubai as fielding coach of Kings XI Punjab ahead of the IPL, feels not much will change in South African cricket till the administrative chaos ends.
“The sad thing for me is that even though top 30 players in the country want to work together for the game, the administration is in such chaos that unfortunately it does have an impact on things (on the field),” Rhodes said. CSA has had interim CEOs and coaches in the recent past and that can’t help, feels Rhodes.
“Someone like me who is not part of the system, we are reading about issues in South Africa cricket week in and week out and it has not been resolved.
“The same mistakes are being made and there is not much accountability. It saddens me…it does impact on field performance. Even though we have some great players, we have been lacking consistency in performance because of inconsistency off the field.” Such is the state of affairs that Smith received “death threats” for supporting the global Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.
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Current pacer Lungi Ngidi was criticised by former players like Pat Symcox and Boeta Dippenaar for supporting BLM. They argued that “all lives matter”.
Rhodes prefers the term “racial inequality” to racism and said it is rampant even 26 years after South Africa became a democracy.
“It is interesting because that is what a democracy is all about. You are entitled to your opinion and interesting thing is your opinion is different to somebody else but you are still part of the same system,” he said when asked about black and white players criticising each other.
“In India, there is such real difference from state to state but it is considered as one race but in South Africa even though we all are South Africans, because of the apartheid regime, there is social and economic inequality.
“This white privilege still extends and carries on generation after generation, it is difficult for young black children coming up in a disadvantaged community to have a better life than their parents just because of lack of facilities. There is so much corruption,” he explained. Rhodes said the COVID-19 pandemic has deepened the fault lines.
“COVID-19 has highlighted all these differences but they have been there for the last 26 years.” Quota system has been institutionalised in South Africa, including cricket, which requires the national team to field an average of six players of colour over the course of a season.
Is Rhodes for the quota system? He conceded that the issue is a complicated one even for those, who have benefitted from the system.
“That (quota) has been the bone contention for a lot of ex-players…no matter how good they were, it was always considered as a quota selection. That affected them emotionally and mentally in playing for a team in which they felt nobody else trusted them or supported them.
“People keep asking me about white privilege and I keep saying that I grew up in a regime that was totally designed to ensure I had the best opportunity. So, there is racial inequality, some people call that racism, and there has to be a level playing field,” he added.