CAPE TOWN – Former national team manager Mohammed Moosajee believes many teams around the world could actually learn from the Proteas in regards to respect for different cultures and diversity within team environments.
This might come as a surprise to many considering the divisive comments made by former black players in relation to the systematic racism within the Proteas camp over the years, but Moosajee claims the South African men’s side have made significant strides considering its point of origin.
“We have to be honest with each other and acknowledge that we come from an extremely fractured past. This applies to race, religion and culture. We had to find a way to learn from each other,” said Moosajee, who was the Proteas team doctor from 2003 before becoming the manager in 2008 and fulfilling both roles until 2019.
“Undoubtedly the hurt and pain the players have spoken about recently is a real thing. But we realised we had to be better with each other off the field if we wanted to perform on it. The Proteas Culture camp project was initiated around that time where we tried to understand each other better.”
Racism and religious insensitivity is certainly not unique to the Proteas and South African teams.
England cricket was recently rocked to its core when former youth international captain and Yorkshire off-spinner Azeem Rafiq claimed “institutional racism” experienced at the county almost drove him to suicide. Rafiq also stated he was made to feel like an “outsider” because he was a Muslim.
English County Champions Essex have also now been cast in the spotlight after a young Muslim player Feroze Khushi was sprayed with alcohol during the team’s celebrations on the Lord’s balcony last Sunday.
The Proteas have long since disbanded the custom of showering players with alcohol after a series victory due the presence of the now retired Hashim Amla in the national team. Amla is, of course, a devout Muslim who refused to wear any form of alcohol sponsorship logos during the period when the Proteas were sponsored by South African Breweries.
Due to Amla’s stance fellow Muslim players that entered the national team were allowed similar courtesy.
“It was tough for Hashim when he first came into the team,” Moosajee said. “But fortunately he had the support within the team management with Goolam Rajah being the manager initially and myself as the team doctor. He had people who could protect him within the environment which allowed us to foster the common understanding and that alcohol was forbidden in Islam.”
“Initially we had a conversation to educate. We also tried not to put those affected in a difficult position. If there was a SAB sponsor’s commitment where players were required, we would try to send other players. To SAB’s credit, when Hashim did not want to wear the logo they were willing to have the conversation and (former CSA chief executive) Gerald (Majola) needs to take a lot of credit for that. It then filtered into that there was common understanding when it came to celebrations. There was never any resistance, but rather the misunderstanding that why was it wrong if it was not being consumed.”
Moosajee also stated that tolerance was not only afforded to Muslim players, but to everyone within the team environment.
“All religious groups were respected. There were Bible classes on Sundays and we at best tried not to arrange meetings during those periods. Faith keeps people grounded and whichever religions were practised was encouraged,” he said.
The Proteas have recently returned from their latest culture camp where they addressed topical issues such as the Black Lives Matter movement and the impact it potentially has on the national team.