Michael Holding: ‘It’s a tag people have given me - I cannot back away’

West Indian legend’s book on history of racism nominated for William Hill prize

Michael Holding’s book ‘Why We Kneel, How We Rise’, is up for the William Hill sports book of the year prize. Photograph: Visionhaus/Getty Images

Michael Holding’s book ‘Why We Kneel, How We Rise’, is up for the William Hill sports book of the year prize. Photograph: Visionhaus/Getty Images

 

Michael Holding twice travelled to Ireland as a player with the West Indies in 1980 and 1984, but he only bowled a ball on one of those occasions in 1980. Playing at Clontarf, his spell lasted six overs, came at the cost of seven runs and included two maidens.

Needless to say, the fixture couldn’t be completed due to rain.

So what did he make of his brief time on these shores?

“I don’t remember anything about that game, nothing at all, that’s 40 odd years ago!”

There goes the Irish angle for this interview.

Much more importantly though, Holding is promoting his book ‘Why We Kneel, How We Rise’, which is shortlisted for the William Hill sports book of the year prize.

In the summer of 2020 when the death of George Floyd and the reaction to police brutality against African-Americans caught global attention, Holding, who is Jamaican, used his time as a cricket commentator to make an impassioned on-air speech about his experience of racism.

Other athletes of colour contacted Holding to share how they related to his words. He decided to use his platform and that of those who got in touch. The end product is a powerful recollection of the struggles faced by the likes of Usain Bolt, Thierry Henry, Naomi Osaka and Hope Powell, to name but a few.

There is a clear rationale behind why Holding wanted to include contributions from such a stellar cast:

The South African team take a knee ahead of the first one-day international against the Netherlands at SuperSport Park in Centurion. Photograph: Phill Magakoe/AFP via Getty Images
The South African team take a knee ahead of the first one-day international against the Netherlands at SuperSport Park in Centurion. Photograph: Phill Magakoe/AFP via Getty Images

“My book is trying to educate the world, black, white, brown, everyone, as to the true history of mankind.

“The reason why those names are in the book is because one, they are well known, and number two, I want to show people that irrespective of your background, irrespective of the country in which you live, irrespective of how rich you are – because some of these people are multi-millionaires – irrespective of all that, the one thing that they all have in common is black skin.

“They all suffer the same fate because of that black skin, and that’s what I wanted to show people. It doesn’t matter your background or your religion or your education or your sex or your wealth, once you have black skin, you have a problem.

“Of course there’s one name that people won’t recognise, and that’s Jeff Harriot. He was a teacher and that’s what we want the book to be about, to educate people. He got in touch with me earlier through email. He emailed the England Cricket Board which they forwarded because he had no idea how to get in touch with me.

“So when we started the book I thought I had to get in touch with him and see if he too would be happy to be involved.”

The success of a man with a low profile, who Holding describes as ‘personifying the solution’, having his voice heard by so many adds extra poignancy to the project.

It is not just the variety of people involved that makes Holding’s undertaking an all-encompassing one. The time he has spent speaking publicly about the importance of the book is not insignificant, but his motivation goes beyond the commercial.

“Anything to bring the book into the light, anything that will get a few more people reading the book, and I’m not talking about sales. A friend of mine has organised for the book to be in 40 odd libraries in the midlands in the UK. It’s not about trying to sell the book. You don’t have to go to the library to buy it.

“Thousands of people can go to each library and read the book, put it back; read the book, put it back. I genuinely think that people who read the book with an open mind and a fair mind will realise that what we have been talking about is genuine.”

The unintended consequence of the book’s success is the power Holding has now as a voice of authority when it comes to issues of race in sport. In the recent T20 World Cup, when South Africa’s Quinton de Kock initially refused to take the knee, Holding unsurprisingly was of the opinion that he was wrong to do so. Still, you can guess who the world flocked to for his take.

“I’m not sure why they want my opinion, they should know what it is when it comes to things like that. They want to be able to say, ‘well, Michael Holding said this’. I have to be careful about it because you can’t constantly be in the news like that. People will get tired and fed up.

“It’s a tag people have given me, I have to live with it. There will always be issues like this that people are going to want to ask me about; I cannot back away from it.”

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