Moments in Time: The Day Sir Viv refused to be ‘white’

By April 13, 2020

Sir Vivian Richards, Legendary West Indian batsman and former captain, has had many instances when his greatness was on show for all the world to see, however, there was one, in particular, that stands out in my mind.

Apartheid South Africa had been banished from the world of sport and while the two, politics and sport, should never meet, it was widely agreed that those sanctions were the right thing to do.

South African cricket was decimated by the sanctions, which started in 1971, and they needed to revive it.

The country hashed a plan to play unsanctioned international cricket inside South Africa, which while frowned upon, could not be stopped.

In all, South Africa would host seven tours to the country, dubbed Rebel Tours, between 1982 and 1990.

A precedence had been set in 1981 with England’s Graham Gooch going to South Africa with eleven other players. They world wholeheartedly bashed them for their actions, labelling the group the “the Dirty Dozen” in England’s Houses of Parliament.

The rebels were banned for three years, including Geoffrey Boycott, who was the world’s leading Test run-scorer at the time. Most of their careers, except for Gooch’s and John  Emburey’s, was ended by the ban.

But in 1982, the South Africans were back at it, inviting Sri Lanka this time, with 14 of their players convinced into making the trip. The players were banned for life by the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka. Only Flavian Aponso would play again, turning out for the Netherlands in the 1996 World Cup at the age of 43.

Fast forward to 1982 and South Africa came calling in the Caribbean. For the first time, the South African side would get real competition because the West Indies, kings of cricket at the time, could afford to field at least two world-beating teams.

At the time, first-class cricketers in the West Indies weren’t paid at all and had to live off employment outside of cricket. In fact, the majority of those who played for the West Indies had jobs outside of cricket and so South Africa made sure to make an offer that would mean they could become financially independent.

For the first time the unofficial games had some real legitimacy as the South Africans had a West Indies team that could compete with them.

But even while the Lawrence Rowe-led team that included real talent like that of Richard Austin, Herbert Chang, Sylvester Clarke, Colin Croft, Bernard Julien, Alvin Kallicharan, Collis King, Everton Mattis, Ezra Moseley, and David Murray, was brilliant in its own right, it still needed some real star power to make it more legitimate.

There was no greater star in World cricket at the time than Viv Richards.

Viv played a swashbuckling brand of cricket few dared to attempt or had the talent to pull off for that matter.

South Africa wanted him.

In the critically acclaimed documentary ‘Fire in Babylon,’  Viv opens up about being offered a blank cheque from the South African cricket board.

To prove that the ravages of Apartheid would never impact him, or the other cricketers in South Africa, those agreeing to the tour would be called ‘Honorary White’.

Viv would never have to work again.

Then he reacted in a way that cemented his place, at least in my mind, as West Indies cricket’s greatest hero, by simply saying no, when many others would have said different.

He didn’t hit a ball out of the park, challenge an Australian quick, he simply said ‘no’.

And for that, I will be eternally grateful as it has shaped, in large part, my attitude towards racism.

 Just recently, Sir Viv was asked if he had regrets about not taking the offer and living the rest of his life in the lap of luxury.

“No sir, that has never even come to mind and I am one of those individuals that when I make my mind up in terms of the decision making and all that, then that’s it and that, to me, was worth much more than money,” he said.

Of course, Viv saying ‘no’ had the knock-on effect of making sure that nobody else, outside of Croft, would say otherwise.

Sir Viv’s ‘no’, had the knock-on effect of ensuring that the West Indies’ great legacy of the 1980s was created.

Without it, West Indies’ tour to England in 1984 where they won the Test series 5-0, would not have happened. There would have been no ‘Whitewash’.

And, of course, not losing a single Test series between 1980 and 1995 would probably not have happened.

Sir Viv’s moment may just have saved what turned out to be the greatest sporting achievement in the history of sport.

Because now, saying ‘no’ was markedly easier for Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Clive Lloyd, Jeffrey Dujon, Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner and Michael Holding.  

And Viv had to say ‘no’ again, the following year. He did and the rest is history.

Apartheid would come to an end in 1994.

Paul-Andre Walker

Paul-Andre is the Managing Editor at SportsMax.tv. He comes to the role with almost 20 years of experience as journalist. That experience includes all facets of media. He began as a sports Journalist in 2001, quickly moving into radio, where he was an editor before becoming a news editor and then an entertainment editor with one of the biggest media houses in the Caribbean.

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