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SJN Hearings: Boucher apologises for offensive songs, nicknames during playing days

South Africa's head coach available for one-on-one discussions with any former team-mates whom he has offended

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
Boucher expanded on allegations made by Paul Adams  •  Getty Images

Boucher expanded on allegations made by Paul Adams  •  Getty Images

Mark Boucher, South Africa's head coach, has admitted the national team culture in his playing days was exclusionary and blamed it on a lack of "maturity and consciousness" in the immediate post-Apartheid era. He apologised for his role in causing any offence to or discriminating against team-mates and committed to creating a more inclusive space going forward.
Boucher submitted a 14-page affidavit to Cricket South Africa's Social Justice and Nation-Building committee containing a "general response" to implications of being involved in racial discrimination. He intends to submit a second supplementary affidavit dealing with specific issues at the conclusion of the hearings. He has also made himself available for one-on-one discussions with former team-mates in a bid to mend relationships.
While Boucher's submission dealt with broad issues of team culture, he went into detail about the allegations made by Paul Adams, who told the SJN he was nicknamed brown s*** by his team-mates in the late 1990s. Boucher said that the nickname was used at fines' meetings - team celebrations after series wins - but he can "categorically say" that he "did not give Mr Adams the name 'brown s***'" and "does not know who gave him the name".
However, Boucher conceded that he was part of a group of players that sang a song in which Adams was called "brown s***" and that some of what took place at those post-match celebrations was "totally inappropriate, unacceptable and in retrospect, understandably offensive". Boucher said he "deeply regrets and apologises for the part I played in joining in with my team-mates in singing offensive songs or using offensive nicknames".
Adams' testimony, and that of other players including Roger Telemachus, Loots Bosman and Ashwell Prince, spoke of a team culture that made them feel unwelcome and where issues of the country's segregated past were not discussed. Boucher echoed that and provided the view that the formerly privileged, white players were unprepared for post-Apartheid challenges.
"We were not only naive but were also ill-equipped to deal with the new environment in which we found ourselves," Boucher's statement read. "To my certain knowledge there had not been any briefing or discussion by CSA as to how we deal with the legacy of Apartheid, how players and management should deal with the additional pressures placed on them by the country and the media, how we ensure that there is equality, respect, empathy and inclusiveness in the team. There was no guidance, no culture discussions, no open fora and no one appointed by CSA to deal with awkwardness or questions or pressures that were being experienced by the players and, in particular, by the players of colour."
Boucher noted that this had changed in the last few years and especially since the revival of the Black Lives Matter movement last year. In his time as a coach, Boucher said he had been involved in "intense and meaningful workshops and discussions about how to create an atmosphere of inclusiveness and a culture of respect and empathy between all players".
Earlier on Monday, white-ball captain Temba Bavuma said the team of 2021 is "very different to the early 2000s," and that he is trying to create an environment of "belonging", which stands in stark contrast to the culture Bosman, Telemachus, Adams and Prince described.
All four had spoken about a clique of white players who controlled the team and, while they did not name anyone, it was implied that Boucher formed part of this select group. Boucher acknowledged that close friendships were formed in the team by "players of the same age, or with shared interests or from shared backgrounds", but played down the influence this group had on team selection in particular.
"It is unfortunate that the group of players that became the senior Protea players in my playing career and who spent time together have been portrayed in the hearings by some witnesses as a cynical clique who were involved in selection. This is simply not true," Boucher wrote. "It is unfair to say, without any substantiating evidence, that this clique in any way undermined the values, culture or performance of the team or was involved in selection".
He referred specifically to the case of Thami Tsolekile, who replaced Boucher when he was dropped in 2004, and was then contracted to replace Boucher in 2012 but did not play. While Boucher did not speak on what happened when his career ended in 2012, he said he had communication with Tsolekile in 2004 when he congratulated him, offered him assistance and discussed keeping wicket in Indian conditions. "My intentions were always to help him build confidence so that he could play well and so that South Africa could win games," Boucher said.
On selection, Boucher also called on CSA to be more transparent with their transformation policy so decisions on squads and teams are not subject to speculations around race-based agendas. "The players, media and public need to understand why these selection decisions are made, so that there is no room for player insecurities, which leads to added anxiety amongst players, as well as unnecessary speculations in the media and social media," Boucher said. "The transformation committee, in my opinion, needs to have a very clear explanation to everyone, public included, on what their selection policies are, why they are there, and if and when they change, to simply be transparent about it."
Currently, the South African national team is required to field six players of colour, including two black Africans, on average over the course of a season. These numbers are reviewed by the Eminent Persons' Group, who review transformation in various sporting codes, across the entire organisation. As recently as last year, CSA has been criticised by the sports minister, Nathi Mthethwa, for its slow pace of transformation. Mthethwa's concern then was that senior positions at CSA, including that of head coach, were occupied by white men.
While Boucher referred to his appointment in brief in his affidavit and to the team culture he is now building, the bulk of the content concerned his playing days. In acknowledging the successes of the team he played in - Boucher retired shortly before South Africa were ranked No.1 in Tests - he also expressed regret over a team culture which, if better, could have yielded better results. "With the benefit of hindsight, it is most distressing to me that, while we may have achieved many of my goals on the field in my playing days, we did not have a team environment where all the players felt comfortable and valued. Had we had a better environment, we would have undoubtedly have achieved more on the field. This is unfortunate and regrettable."
Boucher hopes that the team he now coaches can be an example of a strong outfit both on and off the field. He has told the team about his response and, in a separate statement to the media, said he is "keen to end speculation and the inflammatory comments that have come with it" and "move forward as quickly and positively as possible".
South Africa depart for Sri Lanka on Wednesday for a three-ODI and three-T20I tour, their last matches before the T20 World Cup. "I made the team aware of the affidavit, while inviting them to read it if they should so wish," Boucher said. "I felt that it was essential to deal with the allegations prior to our departure, so that distraction from the focus of the tour could be kept to a minimum. The tour will, I hope, bring success to the team and joy to many South Africans."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent