South African players raised their fists on Saturday in an anti-racism gesture at the start of their two-Test series against Sri Lanka at SuperSport Park in Centurion, in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The team issued a statement that said the players had on multiple occasions declared their support for the campaign against racial injustice and “wanted to own our journey”.

The players were criticised for not “taking a knee” ahead of a recent series against England as had been done by other sporting teams following the death of George Floyd in the United States earlier in the year.

The statement said the decision to show a raised fist was reached “through a process of deep democracy” to be appropriate in a South African context.

“The raised fist is a powerful gesture in our own history, as expressed in the iconic images of Nelson and Winnie Mandela on Mandela’s release from prison in 1990. In this context it was a powerful gesture of triumph, an acknowledgment of the struggle against apartheid, and a commitment to continuing to fight for equality, justice and freedom, while also honouring the religious and cultural responsibilities of every member of our team.”

The statement noted that the raised fist had a long history within the Civil Rights movement, which included the gesture by American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos during a medal ceremony at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games.

“We recognise the historical and political connotations of the raised fist as a gesture of ongoing solidarity in the fight for racial justice and anti-racism work. So, we stand together and raise our fists as a gesture of solidarity and commitment to continuing the work of pursuing racial justice in our lifetimes.”