There are days on the sporting agenda that transcend the frivolous and seemingly endless nature of the games that we so love. Saturday was one of those days as the death of Basil D’Oliveira left the cricketing, sporting and political worlds in mourning.
D’Oliveira will be remembered as having played a massive part in the eventual breakdown of the Apartheid regime in South Africa – highlighting the monumental impact that powerful sporting imagery can have on the wider world, despite having been an un-intending participant in the process.
…his political significance…
A fluent, talented batsmen and capable medium pace bowler D’Oliveira will be recalled more for his political significance than anything else, but having played over 40 tests for England with an average of above 40, there can be no doubting the talent that the man had.
D’Oliveira made his Test debut for England in 1966 against the West Indies having moved to the United Kingdom from South Africa in 1960. Starved of cricketing opportunities as was the case for so many black players in his home nation, Basil made his way to foreign shores, donning the whites for England and in doing so lighting the touch paper for the demise of his home regime.
…not be welcome…
The English selectors provoked public outrage when dropping D’Oliveira despite a recent century but eventually picked him following an injury to one of the front line bowlers, Tom Cartwright. Despite split media and political opinion, public pressure was such that the selectors folded and reintroduced Basil to the side. The South African government responded by making it very clear that the England team, and particularly, D’Oliveira would not be welcome in the country. The tour was cancelled and the incident finally brought the horrors of such racial prejudice to the forefront of minds across the world.
The death of Basil D’Oliveira serves as a timely reminder that racial prejudices do not lie so far in our past, and in some cases do not lie far beneath public images. This timely reminder must be heeded and the sporting world would do well to continue to learn from the errors of their past.
We now bid farewell…
In recent months sport has lost a great number of its most brilliant icons. We now bid farewell to one more legend in the hope that the legacy lives on forever.
Images courtesy of Basil D’Oliveira