FIRE IN BABYLON On Demand - Viv Richards InterviewJune 29, 2011
The West Indies cricketing team of the '70s/'80s will forever be recognised in history as one of the greatest teams in the world, performing on the field at an outstanding level, playing with a symbolic declaration against racism and fighting for equality. Did you ever put down the success on the field to luck?
I can tell you, we worked hard enough to get where we wanted to get at that time. It wasn‟t a luck thing. This was all about the fact that we were fitter, [had a] sense of professionalism and also there was a sense of all that pride, and putting that combination of all those things together created that team.
Your team's success was during a time of race-riots, civil unrest and Apartheid. Did you feel all that happening when you were on the field and how did you use the game to not just overcome it, however help other people suffering this injustice?
You are conscious [of it], everywhere where you had suffering of people of your colour, South Africa, wherever, I always felt conscious about it. For anyone in the team who wasn‟t aware of some of this stuff that was going on worldwide and where we, as people were on the wrong end of the stick most times, it was pretty common for me to try as an individual, to try and instil some of this belief – what we are here for and what we can achieve. We have an avenue to accomplish that and that avenue is the god-given talent we were given through the game of cricket.
So that was one way of sending that message that I think we are on an equal par in here, not superior or inferior in any way but on a level par.
As well as your cricketing talent, you are held in great esteem for refusing to play in South Africa during the apartheid, despite them offering you a „blank cheque.‟ How important was it for you to take a stand as a West Indian Cricketer and publically reject the regime?
At that time they were rather desperate because they were starved of international cricketers or sportsmen of high standards.
I think [they] felt confident that I would sign but I wanted to find out a few things - one of the things that was on the table was being an „honorary white‟. How can a black man be an honorary white man? No money in this world would help me go to South Africa in that sense. If I was to give them my natural status. I was going to sit anywhere on a train I wanted to sit. I was going to go anywhere that I wanted to go. That is the privilege of human beings so there were a few things on the table that just didn‟t feel right.
When we look at the South Africa situation, I was offered a lot of money to tour that part of the world [but] because of what was going on in South Africa in terms of the apartheid regime… all that to me whatever you achieve as a cricketer, I would like to think that is one of my greatest innings – rather than scoring that at Lords or the ARG - to have made such a significant contribution, it may be tiny, but having said no to the apartheid regime in South Africa, not going, that to me is worth more than any triple century, double century whatever, the fastest century. And that is outside the border of cricket of where cricket is concerned – cricket gave me the platform for that.
The West Indies is a collection of several islands, however when people talk about it, they often refer to the nations represented in the West Indies Cricket team. As citizens of different countries, did you feel united on the field not only playing the game, but also representing unity and fighting against persecution?
I can tell you one thing is [that] when we are playing and got on that field we put aside all the differences and the issues that the islands had, and to me I felt at the time what our politicians couldn‟t achieve we could… and did actually, in the end. Bringing that force together, uniting that region together itself. Wherever the West Indies were performing, wherever we were, the closeness of all the islands, all in partnership wanting to know what went on. I think our team played a lot in the so-called integrating factor. Whoever said sport is not a powerful force?
I can tell you that sport is seriously powerful because I have been involved in that to see the transformation of individuals who come speaking to you, individuals who are passionately tell you how much they enjoy what you guys are doing out there because collectively everyone could speak as a unit. The West Indies cricket did that more than anything else in my opinion.
I felt that, I felt a huge responsibility. Because whenever you perform, I could always imagine the noise of the various islands. I could see, just visually see the passion and how people felt about the achievement.
With colonialism, the English also brought over cricket, which essentially the West Indies used to battle them. Did it make you and the team feel proud by beating them at their own game?
Well you shouldn‟t have been the colonial master that you did, then by coming and giving us an opportunity to [learn]. So we were fortunate to be given an opportunity and help through our colonial past to play the game – and this is the opportunity that you gave us! How I look at it in this light is that having invaded our land you left a game and we became reasonably good at it. That‟s one benefit! [smiles]
You should look at it that way, that you actually had a foot in it. Rather than be totally ignorant to the fact of what are these guys doing in this game of cricket and been doing this and doing that. You should be satisfied you gave us the opportunity – these are things you expected to do especially when you were colonial masters then and these are the things you should have done and did and should feel proud of.
Viv Richards / FIRE IN BABYLON (Tribeca Film)
How do you remember that pivotal tour in Australia in 1976?
The things that amazed me about Australia and I know only from sporting tours, there seems to be this 50% and I have always drawn that equation when it comes to almost anything. 50% of Australians are as wonderful as you could get, down to earth and then there is that other side! That sends that message that WOW, we don‟t know these people, we don‟t want to be close to these people but yet still you are in these indigenous people‟s land, because ever since we lost that series I can remember we went home to the series against India and then we went to England after that in „76 and we never looked back. You know, never looked back then and I felt that was a lesson we needed to learn.
Some folks look at it as a friendly game – yes it is a game but it is a fight and I first encountered [that] when we went to Australia, how much it meant to the opposition and I think we, as Caribbean folks never saw it that way. It was all fun-loving stuff, being from the islands and WOW, have a great time. We did not see [it]. Some of us were amazed when we heard some of the stuff coming from the opposition. So it was a new light. In so many ways you learned to just harden your act up a little bit.
And it just gave you another avenue telling you how serious it is.
At the time, did you feel your role as a representative of the West Indies on an International level? Did you feel a responsibility to the people?
Yes because these folks do need a voice and someone who can show them the path. My father left me with an old saying, “He who knows the way, leads the way, go all the way.” So I felt I was in that position. It‟s a position that is attractive enough to some because it is a sport and you are able to relate to so many folks. I have always felt that ones who are downtrodden, who are down and out, that I have got a job to help and uplift.
It‟s important that you do share that success because that is where the attentive side of things came into play, the so-called downtrodden, you were able to address that because you were now reasonably privileged to pass help on to those individuals, those who did not take that journey with you but you know who are there in mind and spirit. Those were some of the thoughts. These were some of the positive things – the happiness you bring to folks. It may not be with a dollar or 2 cents but just that inspirational “Wow, I just saw the West Indies team perform the other night man and how proud they make me feel.” They can get up and feel that way.
The game became a sort of war against racism and the West Indies cricket team at the time were on the front line fighting for the people. Did you feel it was a war, therefore imperative to win every game?
You may lose some battles but I am pretty much serious about winning the war and losing battles sometimes helps you to win the war, and I always wanted to win the war. I made my whole thing very simple whether in the racial or cricketing side of things I always wanted to be in the winning battle zone.
If I got seriously injured on the field, the passion I had for the game, so much, I didn‟t mind if I went there you know. The message that I sent was that I would rather die out there. A lot of people took me seriously when it came to that and I was serious about it. A lot of them looked at it as a sport but it was a step beyond sport, where there was a whole lot of things needed defending, rather than the cricket ball itself. So, I was happy to be in that role.
My bat that was the thing you need. God gave me this talent to express myself and bat in hand was the tool to accomplish that.
My bat could have been my sword at that time and that‟s the way I operated.
As well as the world of sport, music was also very influential. Did any of the music at the time help to inspire you on the field?
I can remember a Calypsonian here who sung a song – I love that song so much - and it says words like, “If you don‟t stand up for something, you end up dying for nothing”. Seriously though, so he said “stand up, stand up” and you have to stand up for something and this I believe is about standing up for what you believe in. It is about human dignity and pride and everything I would like to think we as human beings believe in.
There were so many individuals who had songs, I think around the 60s and 70s.
It wasn‟t much about the loving side of things, I guess there were some love songs that smooching sort of stuff, but there was some conscious side of things, and Bob Marley for sure had that, Bob Marley and the Wailers. You had people like Jimmie Cliff who had that.
Bob Marley and all the other artists you know who were just sounding the protest bell, so when I was playing I always made sure I pack my conscious stuff with me –you know Bob Marley “Get up, stand up, stand up for your right”.
You know all these tunes where, “Jah live children yeah, Selassie I live”. You know all these tunes totally inspiring stuff. Bunny Wailer, you know, Dennis Brown, Toots and the Maytals, I could go on and on.
All these individuals played a part in terms of the stuff that you wanted to listen to get yourself in a frame of mind - you could call it your battlefield music, you know.
Music and sport, and everything else I suppose, music can give you the conscious side of things as well because some of these guys were so brilliant with there lyrics sometimes.
When you look and see some of the stuff that he spoke about like and sang about, it told you that, the songs because of the protest side of things, not protest but singing about the rights of human beings, you know. Bob Marley, when you heard those lyrics, those lyrics to me you could sing some of those lyrics where it gave you a sense that you know – it was like a poem then – you recited that on so many occasions. And you walk onto the field, you leave your hotel, you put your earphones, and that thing is just blaring like, “Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights, we know and we understand, almighty god is a living man, you can fool the people sometimes but you can‟t fool all the people all the time” – all that sort of stuff and that to me is like a poem. A poem, that I feel so strong [about] when you get these lyrics and it‟s totally embedded in your mind.
You feel very very powerful. And hearing them from people like Bob Marley man, you just felt that WOW, it‟s not that you know the inspirational factor on that side of things and knowing that there‟s someone out there who feels the same way that you do and vice-versa.
We were going to try and express [it.] I think in that music side of things Bob did a magnificent job and I like to think I did ok with my bat!
FIRE IN BABYLON (Tribeca Film) is nowavailable on your cable system's Movie On Demand section.
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