Nathi Mthethwa, the South African Minister of Sports, Arts, and Culture, is threatening a racism row over how Sale Sharks’ South African contingent did not take the knee before the Gallagher Premiership match last weekend to signal support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

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Mthethwa has asked South African Rugby 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 Sale players who did not kneel before last Friday’s Premiership match at Harlequins were 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. 

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Gloucester’s Ruan Ackermann also stood before Gloucester’s game with Worcester the following day on a weekend where Premiership clubs had all agreed on various ways to signal their support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Some clubs, for example, formed a circle on the pitch.

The Rugby Players’ Association, the players’ union in England, had explained the Premiership approach before the season restarted last Friday after its five-month stoppage for the coronavirus.  “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 is happening and what is the position of SA Rugby in this whole thing‚” Mthethwa told South African media.

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“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 is 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.”

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