JAMAICA is being urged to forgive legendary cricketer Lawrence Rowe for selling out his country and the region by defying a boycott and playing the game in apartheid South Africa in the early 1980s.
Delivering the keynote address on Sunday at Northern Caribbean University's graduation ceremony, Dr Errol Bryce called on Prime Minister Andrew Holness to forgive Rowe, noting that the South African people had forgiven former foes and combatants through the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Expanding his call following his address, Dr Bryce said Rowe did a very selfish act in "choosing money over loyalty to his race" when he captained the renegade West Indies cricket team on a tour of racist South Africa that was reviled by the international community.
"He sold out Jamaica and since then he has been ostracised," said Bryce.
Rowe, also known as Yagga, had warmed West Indian hearts in February 1972 when, in his dÃ©but Test match against New Zealand at Sabina Park, he scored 214 and 100 not out.
Fifty years on, he is the only batsman to accomplish the remarkable feat of a double-hundred and a century in his first Test.
However, in 1982/83 the elegant, talented, Jamaican right-handed batsman earned the wrath of West Indians when he led a rebel tour to South Africa which then practised the racist system of apartheid, involving rule by whites above all others, with blacks at the bottom. At that time Nelson Mandela, who would subsequently lead South Africa in 1994 following the first-ever representative democratic election in that country, had been in prison since the early 1960s for his role in opposing apartheid.
At the time Rowe was into his 30s, and widely considered to be past his prime. The team mostly comprised players who were finding it difficult to get into the West Indies team.
All members of the rebel team were ostracised in Jamaica and Rowe eventually settled in Miami, USA.
In February 2011, during the lunch break of the first Test between West Indies and India at Sabina Park, Rowe apologised for the rebel tour. This was after a ceremony in which the players' pavilion at Sabina Park was officially named in his honour by the Jamaica Cricket Association (JCA).
In a statement to journalists at Sabina Park, Rowe said:
"About 28 years ago, a team of West Indies cricketers toured South Africa. At that time South Africa was banned for the apartheid regime. That tour and other such tours were grouped together as rebel tours. It was organised and conducted without the approval of [the] West Indies Cricket Board. Such tours were in fact outlawed by cricket boards over the world, by governments including the Government of Jamaica, and by other international organisations like the United Nations. Understandably, that tour upset the people of Jamaica. Today I sincerely apologise to the cricketing fraternity of Jamaica, the Caribbean and the rest of the world."
However, Rowe later appeared to walk back from his apology, telling a radio interviewer he did not believe he had any reason to apologise in relation to the tour of South Africa. Amid growing public outcry the JCA then withdrew its decision to name the players' pavilion in honour of Rowe. Signage was also removed.
On Sunday, Bryce, who is a lay preacher in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, argued that forgiving Rowe would demonstrate the forgiving spirit of Christ as well as underscore Jamaica's reputation for its compassion and grace. He called on the Government to show forgiveness by naming a stadium in honour of Rowe and give him his rightful place in the sporting history of Jamaica as a great cricketer.
A doctor of internal medicine, Bryce argued further that, if the Government leads in showing compassion and grace, the gesture would help to heal the prevailing toxic stress that is adversely affecting the Jamaican society, as reflected in the crime rate.