Welcome change to rugby landscape

2010-11-06 00:00

THE purchase of Lions Rugby Union by IT mogul Robert Gumede and his friend, businessman Ivor Ichikowitz, heralds a new era in transformation in the history of what continues to be a predominantly white sport.

When this country switched from the old to the new dispensation following the historic and all-inclusive 1994 elections, it had only a year before it hosted the biggest spectacle in rugby, the Rugby World Cup. While the people of this country, both black and white, were free, there was still a lot of tension and serious trust issues between all the races.

As reconciliatory as then president Nelson Mandela was, he urged blacks to cross over the racial line and support a sport they had, for all of their lives, despised. It was a sport that personified white Afrikaner rule and oppression. Reluctantly, many of them did, including me, and it turned out to be not bad, with the Springboks steamrolling the All Blacks 15-12, thanks to Joel Stransky, and lifted the Webb Ellis trophy. Chester Williams was the only dot on the Dalmatian.

Because of the support that blacks showed for the sport, what followed were promises of transformation, of how black South Africans would be integrated into this national asset. Time came and went but there were no signs of transformation, besides a few glimpses here and there in the form of Akhona Ndungane, Brian Habana and Beast Mtawarira.

Twelve years after our World Cup win on home soil, the Springboks again lifted the Webb Ellis trophy, and all South Africans were still behind them, but still no transformation, only shades of it here and there.

Gumede’s intervention, together with Ichikowitz, is a timely one and the rugby landscape needs to see more racial diversity in the ownership of clubs, franchises and unions, if transformation is going to be felt.

Football has proven to be light years ahead of most sports in this country as whites were able to play the game when blacks operated under curfews.

So fans have embraced the local clubs and games following the success and spirit of the Fifa 2010 World Cup.

All this has happened with no concerted effort to transform soccer as it has continued to evolve by itself.

Some backward fans of the game have said that rugby (and cricket) are the last few institutions that the black government has not taken over since 1994, an argument which is not only flawed but is also baseless.

Nature is a blessing as it continuously evolves and forces everything around it to do so, hence you either adapt to the change or you die.

Institutions have to change if they are going to stay competitive or they will be out of the game. Besides, transformation would be a healthy exercise for a country with as much emotional baggage as we have, thanks to our sordid past.

Failure to change will only result in the tensions reaching boiling point and then all hell will break loose.

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