Tue | Dec 7, 2021

Honouring the dishonourable

Published:Tuesday | July 5, 2011 | 12:00 AM

In my opinion, for 50 years, Lawrence Rowe has been the West Indies' best batsman. There've been better cricketers; more consistent producers; but none equalled his batting technique or style.

In Barbados, before 1974, Rowe was called 'Sabina' Rowe because Bajans felt he could only score runs in Jamaica. After Rowe scored 304 at Kensington Oval, one Barbadian law tutor was moved to recount: "When I was a boy, I saw Tom Graveney cover-drive. I thought, 'Poetry in motion, impossible to see better.' Later, I saw Garfield Sobers cover-drive. I forgot about Graveney. Then, recently, I saw Lawrence George Rowe cover-drive. I'd pay just to see Rowe walk to de wicket; take he guard; and walk back. I don't need anything more!"

So Rowe's batsmanship and my admiration for it are unparalleled. However, in 1982, Rowe blotted his national copybook such that, in my opinion, it disqualified him forever from any honour.

Readers adult in 1982 know the history of the struggle against apartheid. They experienced, vicariously, the Soweto massacre. They grieved the deaths in police custody of black martyrs like Steve Biko and the brutal, arbitrary killings in the townships of persons guilty only of believing they were human.


Their hearts filled with pride as tiny Jamaica led the world's fight against apartheid, while 'democracies' like America and Britain, informal apartheid practitioners, resisted full participation for years. Their collective consciousness struggled with the ANC, pursuing the impossible dream with music, lyrics, poetry and prose. Eventually, the 'developed' world was shamed into imposing economic sanctions. The international sports boycott gelled when England selected 'coloured' Basil D'Oliveira on its cricket team to South Africa, but P.W. Botha's government reacted by refusing to host the tour. Finally, South Africa was banished to sporting oblivion.

South African cricket officials, desperate to break the boycott, tried enticing world cricketers to form pseudo-national teams to tour South Africa. In 1982, 12 English cricketers, led by Graham Gooch, secretly agreed to a 'rebel' tour. Despite being the subjects of global outrage, the 'Dirty Dozen' were handed mere three-year suspensions from international cricket.

South Africa hailed the rebel tour as the return of international cricket. It became a propaganda tool. But the real propaganda prize would be a tour by a world-dominating black West Indian team. They offered Viv, Mikey and Clive blank cheques. All refused.

Those who went weren't misled. Rowe (and others) went twice. Most did it for filthy lucre. Additionally, Rowe was piqued at being dropped. Surprised by the intensity of the local backlash, including a life ban by WICBC, Rowe subsequently pleaded noble motives, saying he expected black cricketers beating whites to hasten apartheid's end. This he maintained even after his 'apology'.

'I was disillusioned'

But, in a 2004 interview with Michelle McDonald, Rowe said:

"'[I was disillusioned], because I thought I should've been selected after I made 116 against England ... , I thought I should've gone to Australia ... and they dropped me. They threw me through the window, and I don't think I would've played for the West Indies again ... .

So here's an offer monetary-wise, 60 times more [than current earnings], you have your family and for some people ... these people didn't own a car ... didn't have anything."

For these reasons, Rowe:

  • gave succour to history's most viciously racist government;
  • accepted the title 'honorary white' for 30 pieces of silver;
  • attended secret meetings; made clandestine, circuitous travel arrangements;
  • published absurd, self-serving excuses which insulted the efforts of brave freedom fighters, including Mandela and Tutu.

Twenty-nine years later, Rowe produces a glib apology instantly exposed as insincere by his contradictory radio interviews asserting the rebel tour accomplished good. Immediately, the JCA honours him. Honouring anybody guilty of such vile treachery is a national disgrace and diminishes concurrent honours given to the truly deserving. Everyone involved in this decision to honour the dishonourable should resign in ignominy.

Some public commentators are rebuking critics as unchristian, suggesting detractors are denying Rowe forgiveness. They're confused. Forgiveness doesn't necessarily lead to honour. I can forgive Rowe but never honour him.

Forgiveness itself isn't flippantly earned by stale-dated, hypocritical apologies. To sincerely seek forgiveness, Rowe should first offer unconditional apologies for his wrongdoing AND for not apologising before. Second, he should disgorge all blood money earned and donate it to a suitable charity for black South African cricketers. Remember when Driva said, "Trust can only be restored by forgiveness and atonement," then made no act of atonement? Is this now the accepted standard?

Peace and love.

Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.