Branded a rebel: Cricket’s forgotten men

Editor’s Note: In 1983, the West Indies cricket team was on top of the world – but a group of its players ruined their careers, and for some their lives, by agreeing to tour apartheid-era South Africa in return for large sums of money. With sporting sanctions in place due to the South African government’s policies, the West Indian players were subsequently shunned as traitors by their own people.

Story highlights

West Indian cricketers shunned after touring apartheid-era South Africa

They defied international conventions after being offered large sums of money

Accused of strengthening apartheid's grip in South Africa by playing there

But players say they made a difference in helping cause of black people

CNN  — 

It is a Sunday night in Bridgetown, Barbados.

Here on this Caribbean island, and on the others that make up what’s known as the West Indies, life revolves around one thing – cricket.

On this night, locals gather at historic Kensington Oval, which hosted the 2007 World Cup final. There are no national teams on display this time, but there is a local trophy up for grabs.

It’s enough to draw a large crowd of boisterous fans. In the concourse, a familiar face makes his way through the crowd.

He is Franklyn Stephenson, and he is the best to have never played for the West Indies, all because of one decision he and his teammates made 30 years ago.

It left each of them – forever – branded a rebel.

In 1983, the West Indies cricket team was on top of the world. Team captain Clive Lloyd, from Guyana, had led them to back-to-back World Cup victories in 1975 and ’79.

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Overflowing with talent, the islands of the West Indies could have fielded at least two teams of world-class players. But with all the hype and success, money did not follow. Playing international and club cricket was not enough to earn a living.

At the same time, a world away, South Africa was deep in the heart of apartheid. Its government’s policies had split life into different classifications for whites and so-called non-whites.

Such oppression against the non-white population intensified into violence, landing young protesters like Nelson Mandela in jail. Thousands more were arrested or killed.

Read: Sporting mercenaries or crusaders for a cause?

As the world tried to pressure South Africa’s leadership, sanctions were applied, and sport was no exception.

In 1970, the International Cricket Council banned South Africa from international competition, leaving the country’s cricket-mad fans deprived of the sport they loved, and their cricketers of the careers they dreamed of.

“You’re always optimistic,” said former South African cricketer Clive Rice. “The stupidity that existed would change and South Africa would change much quicker, and we’d be back playing international sport. But it hung on and hung on.”

‘Rebel tours’

To save cricket in South Africa, the sport’s administrators knew something had to be done.

So, in secret, they began planning “rebel tours” – inviting various teams from around the world.

It was a bold move to defy the ICC’s ban by offering lucrative contracts. In March 1982, the first rebel team from England arrived in Johannesburg.

“From our point of view, we knew we had the best cricketers in the world,” said former South African Cricket Union president Joe Pamensky, one of the rebel tour organizers. “We wanted to show them off to the world so they would see it the same as we saw it.”

Later that year, a team from Sri Lanka followed.

And it wasn’t long before many began suspecting South Africa was also targeting a team from the West Indies, the dominant force in world cricket.

“You heard a lot of whispers around the place that perhaps these guys were going to South Africa,” recalled broadcaster Tony Cozier.

“But at that time, we couldn’t believe that they could assemble a team of West Indies players given the whole background to the anti-apartheid movement.”

Many big-name West Indies stars were outspoken in their refusal to play in apartheid South Africa.

Captain Clive Lloyd said no amount of money could get him there. Future captain Viv Richards called it “blood money.”

But other players were tempted.

The offers from South Africa were more than they would likely see in their lifetimes – estimated to be between $100,000 and $150,000 per player.

It was enough to draw in