Wednesday, February 28, 2024

‘Broke my heart’: Moment Candice snapped

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Four words echoed in Candice Warner’s head when her family returned from the Australian cricket team’s ill-fated South Africa tour in 2018: “It’s all my fault.”

The setting of the ball-tampering scandal that saw Steve Smith, Cameron Bancroft and David Warner handed unprecedented sanctions by Cricket Australia, it was a melting pot of torment for the Warner family – one that spanned the weeks preceding Sandpapergate and “was more than just what people saw”.

“Going into that series …[David] had big expectations. As a family and as a team, we all thought he was going to do some fantastic stuff. But then from Test One, it all unravelled,” the former Ironwoman, whose memoir, Running Strong, is available now, tells news.com.au.

The opening batter copped it on the field – later revealing he had to be physically restrained by teammates when confronting South African wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock in a Durban stairwell mid-match over a “vile and disgusting” comment the player allegedly made about his wife.

But it was Warner who arguably bore the brunt, taunted by fans and administrators of a sport she didn’t even play – the latest chapter in a public shaming that had, by then, been going on for 11 years.

“For myself and my family, me being pregnant at the time and no one knowing, my two little girls and my mother there – it was embarrassing. It broke my heart. It was … it was tough,” the 38-year-old says, of the Sonny Bill Williams masks South African spectators donned.

“It was tough to stand there and support David, but I knew that I had to. I knew I couldn’t leave the stadium – because if I did, David would’ve known that everything had affected me. And then it would’ve affected him.”

Looking back now, the Fox Sports panellist knows that what happened before Port Elizabeth – and everything that came after – “had nothing to do with me”.

“But when your name and your past gets dragged up for the few weeks in the lead-up to being sent home, you definitely feel like you are somewhat to blame,” she says.

“Maybe not entirely to blame, but there’s a part of you that goes, if all that in the lead-up didn’t build so much tension, didn’t build so much anger between the two teams, then – you don’t know [what might have happened] … That’s where I thought it was all my fault.

“And that really, really hurt me. At the time, I absolutely thought that I contributed to everything that was going on.”

The bulk of what Warner endured in South Africa can be traced back to the 2007 “night out that became a conversation the entire country wanted to have” – a “pash with a boy at the pub” that she has been forced to answer for, over and over again.

In Running Strong, she recalls wondering at the time, aged 22, how “interesting” the story – “surf lifesaver pashes footy player in local pub” – could possibly be; certain it “had come, and it would go, like all news stories”.

Candice Warner opens up about Sonny Bill Williams

Nobody, least of all Warner herself, could have predicted that the private moment – one that might have remained private but for a punter who “shot [a photo] up and under my skirt inside the bathroom” – would follow her in the almost two decades since.

Williams – who in his 2021 autobiography acknowledged that while he was in a relationship at the time, “she was a single adult woman and so it really was no one else’s business what she did” – seemingly got the “boys will be boys” treatment. Warner was slut shamed.

“The thing that disappoints me is I didn’t have a voice back then. Women didn’t have a voice back then. Sixteen years on, we can now talk about it – I feel comfortable talking about it, and I can be heard,” she says.

“In 2007, I was forced to apologise. And now I’m able to have these chats … and the fact that we’ve come so far and that we can have these conversations now is really empowering.”

Having looked at it “from every angle, because it’s been part of my life for close to two decades”, Warner is certain the incident would not have dogged her in the same way if she were a man.

“I can see from the other side, and I don’t think that he gets targeted as much as I do … And if the situation happened now, I don’t think it would be anywhere near as bad as what I went through, what my family went through, or what other women went through at that time.”

By her own admission, Warner is “not the perfect person”, nor “the perfect mum”. But she’s taken the voice she didn’t have back in 2007 and used it to address – for her three daughters – “what I went through without any interruptions or any interference … in my words”.

“I hope they see my strength now. I spend a lot of time with the girls one-on-one with David being away, and they’re too young to realise now, but I hope they look back one day and go, ‘Wow, mummy did all that on her own … how incredible’. I just want to be the best role model possible for my kids,” she says.

Candice Warner opens up about being a good role model

“And I’ve experienced enough to now have the tools to teach my girls how to get through certain situations. How to overcome the bad times, how to embrace the good times, but also just how to be themselves. How to be comfortable in their own skin without being judged.

“Women are judged every single day. You’re too big, you’re too small; your hair’s not long enough, it’s too short; you’re too skinny, you’re too fat. It can be a horrible world for women – but it can also be an unbelievable world. So I want to try to empower my girls [that] whatever they put their mind to, they can achieve.”

Running Strong by Candice Warner is available now

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