Mind Games: Jinne mense, stop bitching and give us some colour in rugby

2014-09-22 13:45

Just before the rugby World Cup in South Africa from May to June 1995, I was shown a press release by then SA Rugby Union CEO Edward Griffiths just before it was given to the media.

It announced that all national Under-17, Under-19, Under-21 and Under-23 teams would have to include a quota of players from disadvantaged and underprivileged backgrounds – black players.

This was Griffiths’ brainchild. He said transformation was progressing too slowly. Unions had to be forced to include more black players in their teams.

The move was seen as necessary to help then President Nelson Mandela pacify those in the ANC who were looking with horror at this celebration of a sport they saw as the preserve of the white right.

It was received with opprobrium for Griffiths and an outcry in many unions.

That was 19 years ago. Today we sit with the same problem.

A “strategic transformation plan” has recently been leaked, saying black players should make up 50% of national and provincial sides by 2019.

Saru says the percentages are targets, not quotas. Many commentators feel its goal is for seven of the 23 players (30%) in match-day squads at next year’s World Cup to be black.

As in 1995, the reaction is mixed. Some people laud the step. Others, along with some in sectors of the Afrikaans press, roundly condemn it.

AfriForum says it will lodge a complaint with the International Rugby Board about a racial quota ­system – though an unspoken, race-based selection policy has been in place for years now.

Many rugby scribes jump to Heyneke Meyer’s ­defence over suggestions that he is out of step with the imperatives of transformation. Their gist is that his job as national coach is to turn out winning Springbok sides. The blame, they say, should be ­apportioned lower down the chain.

All I can do is quote Evita Bezuidenhout: “Jinne mense!”

It’s been 19 years and what do we have? Another policy document. We’ve had them before. We’ve had “development” indabas, replaced by “transformation” indabas.

We’ve had a succession of sports ­ministers – Makhenkesi Stofile, Ngconde Balfour and Fikile Mbalula – beating their drums.

We’ve had 2009’s sports portfolio chairman, Butana Komphela, excoriating the game.

We’ve had a succession of Saru administrators like Silas Nkanunu, Mluleki George, Mike Stofile, and today’s president and deputy, Oregan Hoskins and Mark Alexander, who qualify on the awful “quota” ticket. Still we play the blame game.

The simple fact is that everyone in rugby is responsible. No one will grasp the nettle.

Everyone hoped the transformation problem would go away with platitudes, with some good, some insincere intentions.

It hasn’t.

For years I’ve been calling Saru to establish academies run by crusaders (old-school teachers) and top coaches (to coach the coaches) in the Eastern Cape.

Nineteen years is too long.

Saru’s fudged and stalled transformation. It faces the reality that South Africa’s demographic profile is changing so fast, it will soon have no supporters.

White support of rugby is decidedly elderly. Black support has been alienated.

It is time, Mr Hoskins, Mr Alexander, to waive the trips, give up the ceremonies, roll up your sleeves and actually do something.

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