Can’t understand rugby crisis

Plumbers fix leaks, fishermen catch fish and bankers charge too much. Electricians install lighting and cricketers play cricket, which is why they employ journalists to help with columns.

Sometimes ‘ghost writing’ can be a lonely business. You really can feel like a ghost because the man whose name appears above the words in the newspaper is a little too pre-occupied with other things to find time, let alone quality time, to gather his thoughts.

Often a newspaper editor will request that a certain subject be addressed by his ‘star’ which can make the job of being the ‘ghost’ considerably easier.

On the recent tour of England it was my great pleasure – and I mean that sincerely – to help Graeme Smith with a column for an English newspaper.

Things may change in the years ahead, but the captain was thoughtful, honest and interesting about every subject he touched upon.

On his last day in the country he was required to write his final column for the newspaper. The editor asked whether he might make mention of the racism scandal afflicting the Springboks. I suggested it was a terrible idea, fearing the likelihood that whatever he said might be misconstrued by someone or other.

But Smith was not afraid. After all, it was up to me to make sure the words reflected his views as clearly in print as they did when spoken. For the benefit of those not resident in the UK, or not regular Daily Telegraph internet surfers, here is the relevant section repeated. I’m sure you’ll find it interesting:

I’ve been asked a couple of times to comment on the scandal that is currently overshadowing the Springboks’ build-up to the rugby World Cup. The details of the alleged racial incident aren’t clear to me, so I can’t comment on what actually happened. But I’ll be honest, I’m not sure I would be able to comment.

The reason is simple: I wasn’t even a teenager when Nelson Mandela was released from prison. I went to school and played sport in a mixed South Africa and took black and coloured friends home afterwards. I was too young to remember apartheid South Africa and I don’t see colour now.

I hate to mention this because, to me, we were a balanced squad of cricketers when we left South Africa, not a racially balanced squad.

But people told me the squad had more black players in it than any other to leave our shores. I’m not dismissing that, because it’s important, but it’s for the politicians to get excited about, not the cricketers. Ask Makhaya or Herschelle – we want to play cricket.

With such a mix of cultures and backgrounds within the squad, on the road for three months, I was aware it would be unnatural if we didn’t have a couple of guys getting on each others nerves and ‘snapping’. Well, we must be unnatural because, hand on heart, we grew closer together and learnt more about each other as the weeks passed by. We became more and more like a family – albeit a slightly delinquent one at times, notably on the team bus.

So I just couldn’t understand what had happened in the rugby camp. I was deeply shocked – we all were. But it’s so far away from what any of us have experienced in cricket. I guess none of us could really understand it, though we would all condemn the slightest suggestion of racism in any walk of life.

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