Steve Diamond insists controversy generated by his South African players not taking a knee before the match with Harlequins is a “storm in a teacup” and will not distract the team as they prepare to face Gallagher Premiership leaders Exeter Chiefs at the AJ Bell Stadium on Friday.
South African Minister of Sports, Arts, and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa is threatening to drag English based players in the Gallagher Premiership into a racism row over taking the knee before matches to signal support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Mthethwa has asked the South African Rugby president to explain the sport’s position but did acknowledge South African players in the Premiership had worn T shirts supporting the fight against racism.
The South African players who did not kneel before the Harlequins versus Sale match were Sale’s Springbok World Cup winners Faf de Klerk and 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’s Manu Tuilagi, Scotland wing Byron McGuigan and Wales prop WillGriff John also stood.
Gloucester’s Ruan Ackermann was the only player from his team not to take a knee before the game with Worcester with Premiership clubs having all agreed on various ways to signal their support for the Black Lives Matter movement with some clubs forming a circle on the pitch.
Diamond addressed what could become a unwanted row for the club during today’s press zoom call and said: “Four of our players took the knee and that is their entitlement and the rest didn’t. I think it will be a storm in a teacup and we all wore the Rugby Against Racism t-shirts which we thought was important and I don’t think it is too much to worry about if I am honest.”
Former Harlequins, England and British & Irish Lions wing Ugo Monye was involved in a players’ working group, containing a representative from each of the 12 Premiership clubs to deal with the issue before the season started. Last week he explained that players may take the knee or stand wearing a slogan on a t-shirt saying: “It might look a little bit more like Formula 1, but I don’t want people to jump to conclusions and assumptions that by people not taking the knee, that means they’re racist.”
The Rugby Players’ Association, the players’ union, had stated their view adding: “How each of our members choose to act in relation to this moment is a matter of their personal choice. We respect and defend their individual right to make that decision.”
The Sale players all wore the ‘Rugby Against Racism’ T-shirts as did Ackermann but this has not stopped Mthethwa asking for an explanation. “We do not want to jump the gun on the specific matter of the South African players in England who didn’t kneel in support of the BLM movement but we did say we want to understand what’s happening‚ and what is the position of SA Rugby in this whole thing‚” Mthethwa told South African media.
“The first thing we noted is that they were wearing the t-shirts which support [the] BLM movement but they did not kneel. Upon seeing this‚ I interacted with SA Rugby through its president (Mark Alexander) and I asked him to explain what’s happening so that we are on the same wavelength.
“You must remember we were together at the World Cup in Japan as a country with some of the players and one thing which cannot be tolerated is when somebody is displaying racist behaviour and showing racist attitude. The president of SA Rugby did say that they are going to be having their own meeting and they will make their views known.”