Coming Full Circle?

July 8, 2014 at 11:26 am Leave a comment

In a sport where you have to throw the ball backwards in order to go forwards it would appear that one team is having to go back in time before it can move forward. South African rugby finds itself at yet another crossroads despite the Apartheid regime coming to an end over twenty years ago.

It was understandable after decades of segregation that once the barriers came down South African sport had to do something to ensure that there was integration of black players into the predominantly white cricket and rugby teams. Unfortunately some black players paid a heavy price, by being promoted to the national team or even provincial team before they were ready. Others in those early days were given time to settle into the role given and the team as a whole, but all will tell you it was not easy being a minority in a team and knowing that many were wondering if you were there purely to meet a quota, or whether you were in fact good enough.

Twenty years on and the quota system is still in place. Should it be? Archbishop Desmond Tutu stated several years ago that he felt it should not be. That South Africa now had to be run based on merit, and not along tribal lines or based on the colour of a man’s skin. Regrettably the leaders in the ANC no longer choose to listen to this wise man who has lived through so much and his efforts were recognised with the Nobel Peace Prize.

In April this year the South African Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula stated that major sporting bodies in the country needed to implement a quota policy that raises the number of blacks in provincial and national teams.  He wanted this brought in immediately. Mbalula, wanted to raise the quota from 50 to 60 per cent in favour of Black players in response to a study that showed South African sport was dragging its heels on transformation.

The South African Rugby Union were ordered to submit to the government its development plans to address this issue “as a matter of urgency and with immediate effect”. They were not alone as the South African governing bodies for cricket, soccer, netball and athletics were also told to lodge their transformation plans.

Interestingly the soccer team is made up of predominantly black players and it is believed when the Minister was asked if the same quota system would apply to white players in that team he dismissed the question. This is one reason why a quote system will not work.

The other is that the hierarchical system in South Africa is not as simple as Black and White. In many facets of life preference is given based on a person’s tribal background first and foremost. In fact many leaders in South Africa do not even appreciate that the Chinese during Apartheid were classified as black, yet are they on an equal footing now?

Last week the issue was raised again when head of the union COSATU implied that Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer was deliberately not giving black players a chance. “The team on the field is still over-represented by white players, even though there are many great black players in the squad,” said the COSATU statement.

It went on to say, “Looking at the match on Saturday, again black players are brought on to the field in the last five minutes, even though the Springboks are comfortably ahead. This is because the coach is scared that the black players will outshine the white players, if they get lots of game time. Even when players go off for injury, they are rushed back on because the black replacements may shine. The arrogance of the white boys club continues to be displayed very publicly, an example being how Matfield wears an old South African riot squad skull cap, completely disregarding how this may impact on the sentiments of black South Africans.” Matfield was wearing the same scrum cap that matches his Blue Bulls hideous and inappropriate military-style alternate strip.

Sports Minister Mbalula has warned that any sporting body that resists the new government order could have its funding withdrawn and runs the risk of being  banned from representing South Africa in international events.

He may not have to do that, as sadly many sporting bodies outside of South Africa are already watching these moves very closely and just as there was a boycott of South African sport when the Government of the day chose to exclude black players, feeling is growing that the time to boycott South African teams may again not be that far away this time for white players being excluded.

South Africa promotes itself as the Rainbow nation, their government would do well to remember there are seven colours in a rainbow that make it such a spectacular sight. It is not dominated by any one colour, they all stand together as one. It is from that unification that such a beautiful vision is created.

The time for Quotas are over. By all means have a quota with your squads, and the Government could subsidise  teams to include and bring through more players of colour, but come match day a coach must always play his best team with no interference based on age, religion, tribe or colour. Picking a player for any of these reasons does not do the individual any good.

It is sad that the current Government have forgotten so quickly the words of their former leader Nelson Mandela who said “Sport has the power to change the world…it has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”

Sport cannot be contrived, it cannot be open to questions of over its validity. If it is that hope soon becomes despair. Twenty years on it is time to focus on development and then let the talent determine who deserves the highest honour of representing this great sporting nation.

With only one Super Rugby franchise making it to the finals in 2014, many believe that the slide has already started, for sports sake, and for the nation’s sake let us hope that is not the case.



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