Schools change first

2014-10-29 00:00

WITH South African Rugby Union’s (Saru) newly proposed transformation plan becoming a huge talking point a month ago, the issue is still difficult to address.

SARU’s general council has yet to officially approve the plan, but it sets out a wide variety of goals for each provincial union on the amount of demographic representation needed from schoolboy level to the Springbok team.

Despite this plan, the KwaZulu-Natal Rugby Union (KZNRU) is forging ahead and has devised a system that, according to KZNRU CEO Pete Smith, was a massive improvement on how transformation was handled 10 years ago.

The KZNRU is the body responsible for amateur rugby and development including school level and club rugby.

Since 1999 it has worked on development schemes, which Smith believes were poorly organised.

“The problem was the resources we had were not used correctly; it was never really controlled or defined.

“We would set up a coaching clinic in one area and once we finished, there was no progress after that — it’s not sustainable,” he told The Witness.

Last year, with the help of KZNRU development manager Quentin Reynolds, the union devised a new strategy allowing them to actively and continually work on rugby transformation and development in rural and underprivileged schools.

“We drew up the hotspot programme which singles out certain schools in a region within close proximity and that have similar playing levels. The schools play against each other in those clusters,” Smith said.

KZNRU has 11 regional officers looking after 52 hotspots throughout the province.

The regional officer identifies a hotspot and looks for suitable areas at which the schools can play. They also find a co-ordinator to work out the logistics and single out and train possible coaches.

“We took a structure and streamlined it and it has been very successful — it is ambitious and it involves a lot of people and hard work,” said Reynolds.

The hotspot programme works through committees in each area which includes teachers, coaches and principals supported by the KZNRU and their specific regional officer.

In that way, the hotspots begin managing themselves and continue developing the sport and nurturing players.

Despite the success of setting up these programmes and getting schools playing, Smith identified two areas of difficulty when looking at transformation.

“There is a big bottleneck at a professional level where only the best make it. People will watch television and ask why there aren’t more players of colour in the teams, but the reality is only a small percent of players get to that level.

“The other area is the difficultly of teaching rugby — it is not a simple sport,” Smith said.

With that in mind, Reynolds believes the work at school level was on track and the next step was getting more players of colour into provincial teams at U19 and U21 levels.

“Transformation at schoolboy level is there, but the structures at U19 and U21 are calling for affirmative action. We are saying we need to maybe give these guys a chance over others, as they might not have had them before,” Reynolds said.

Smith conceded there were no set goals for the amount of players of colour in these sides, but the KZNRU has tried to play a proactive role in selecting a fair amount of players of colour in the U19, U21 and club representative teams.

Perhaps what was needed in light of Saru’s proposed transformation policy was an incentivised programme rewarding unions for developing players of colour and picking them in teams.

“It is the carrot or the stick situation, we can either punish people for not meeting these goals or be proactive in the way we help demographic transformation of rugby in our country,” Smith said.

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