I was glancing through the team rosters for the cricket World Cup currently underway and noticed that the South African team seems to be the most diverse, consisting of Africans, Asians, Anglos, and Afrikaaners. This is quite an irony since South Africa was for many years ostracized from the world of sports because of its strict segregationist apartheid policies that forbade anyone but whites from playing not only on national teams but at any level of real skill.
In fact, those old enough will recall the infamous D’Oliveira Affair that triggered the cricket boycott of South Africa. Basil D’Oliveira was a talented cricketer from South Africa but because of his mixed Indian and Portugese ancestry, he was officially classified as ‘colored’ and thus ineligible to play at the higher levels of the game in his country. So he went to England and qualified for that team. But when he was selected for the England team to tour South Africa in 1968, the South African government refused to accept the team and the tour was called off.
The story is long and complicated and involved the highest branches of the British and South African governments as they tried to use secret backchannel negotiations to navigate their way through the issue and somehow keep D’Oliveira off the team without giving the impression that politics played a role in his omission. But the whole thing blew up in their faces and escalated calls for the boycott of South African cricket that went into effect in 1971. South Africa were only allowed back into the fold in 1991 after apartheid was dismantled.
Of course, for a team to have diversity in terms of people of color, its population has to be diverse too and many of the cricket playing countries unfortunately lack that feature. In the 1950s, the West Indies team had players of white, black, and Asian ancestry but there don’t seem to be any white players anymore. The Asian countries may not have diversity in their populations in terms of color but do have it in terms of ethnicity, religion, and language but it is hard to discern how integrated their teams are in those categories just from the names and photos of the players.
The fact that South Africa has become a leader in cricket diversity is a welcome turn of events.
Next to South Africa, Zimbabwe seems to have the most diverse team, followed by England. It surprised me that both Australia and New Zealand don’t have any people of color in their national teams even though their populations are diverse. Australia has 12% people of Asian origin while in New Zealand about 25% are Maori, Asian, or Pacific Islanders.