Oregan Hoskins, you’ve missed the ball on a few points

2015-09-11 11:38
Maleka Malesela. Picture: Robert Tlapu

Maleka Malesela. Picture: Robert Tlapu

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The open letter by South African Rugby Union president Oregan Hoskins, published on News24, refers. 

I personally have deep admiration and respect for Hoskins and having been involved in sports before, I pretty much appreciate where he is coming from. I accept that leading a complex process of transformation requires that various variables be taken into consideration. I appreciate the pain he feels that criticism is not based on efforts undertaken by the South African Rugby Union. I have much sympathy, but do not accept some arguments in his open letter. 

Before I venture into the issues on which I wish to engage Hoskins, let me take this moment to congratulate him for repackaging the ANC’s line so well about a good story to tell. 

Indeed, South African rugby is no longer the same. However Hoskins needs to move a step further to appreciate more needs to be done and should be done.

Leading a transformation project requires us that we are patient with those who demand more going forward rather than dismiss them on the basis of what has been achieved already. But change is not a linear process. It has its ebbs and flows. It can suffer some setbacks. 

Rugby wasn’t first 

First, as a matter of fact it is not true that rugby was the first ever sports federation to convene a transformation indaba. I know this from my years of involvement with South African Students Sports Union (now USSA). I attended a national cricket transformation Indaba in 1999 already under the stewardship of Dr Ali Bacher facilitated by one Imtiaz Patel, yes the same now chief executive of Multichoice. I am also aware that at some stage Netball had gone on to achieve a 50-50 representation in the senior women’s team informed by the outcomes of their own internal transformation initiatives. 

I do not attempt to deal here at length with the merits of cricket and netball transformation processes but just to provide evidence against the claim made by Hoskins. I believe as comrades and sports practitioners, we can have another round of debate about the successes and sustainability of those efforts in another context. 

Transformation 

Second, I hold the view that even if we were to accept the absurd claim that rugby was the “first sport in South Africa to hold a national transformation indaba”, I have serious problems with the dating of the indaba. Using the baseline of our democratic breakthrough and deliberately leaving out the unity talks in sports, the question that arises is why did it take 18 years for rugby to convene a transformation indaba? 

This suggests a serious crisis of the transformation project within rugby and to retort with such grandiosity regarding the strategic transformation plan when the nation rightfully demands tangible outcomes of the plan is not helpful. It borders on arrogance to say the least. 

This plan is not the first plan to be produced by South African rugby. Even during the days of the national sports council there was a clear transformation programme with targets. Those targets have never been met. So the plan is nothing new. Why this time must any of us believe in the current plan? 

We should support the senior men rugby national team whom many refer to affectionately as the Springboks, a name that the nation has allowed and accepted as a gesture of reconciliation. 

However we shouldn’t be silenced because we don’t know targets in some plan. People don’t want plans; they want a representative team. Period. 

Many people I know, including the current minister of sports, embraced the “Springboks” name after political persuasion. The nation has extended an arm of reconciliation and its time for rugby to deliver. 

It would be interesting for Hoskins and the entire leadership of South African rugby to take the country into confidence regarding the transformation promises the rugby leadership made at various meetings of the then national sports council to arrive at a deal to keep the name “Springboks”. The nation has not forgotten. 

Those statistics 

Third, statistics about boys in schools who do not play rugby are quite depressing. It cannot be used to try and justify that in the end the country must accept a team that doesn’t represent them. This statistics shows that development efforts of South African rugby are in tatters 21 years after democracy. How long will the plan take to turn around this situation? 

One of the biggest challenges with rugby that people have raised, and South African rugby has never been able to respond cogently to, is the lack of transition from school rugby, uneven as it is according to Hoskins, to professional rugby – which is the ultimate door to play for the senior team. 

The issue is not only about the lack of rugby at schools but that even those who are playing at this level do not have an equal chance of making it through the pipeline. 

Why do we have teams participating at the Craven Week who are so representative and yet the majority of those black players do not make it into the professional settings? This question requires closer scrutiny. 

Between 1994 and today, what is the proportion of white players earning new call-ups compared with that of black players? Former black rugby players have a lot to say about the low success rate of those who make it professional. Hoskins and I participated in the national sports indaba in 2011, when former players spoke out against this and even at that time he appealed for more time. The question is how long? 

I personally support the plans and efforts under way but I don’t think they must be used to suppress a debate about the national team. The open letter doesn’t answer the question that many commentators have asked as to why the coach was allowed to select white players when there are suitably qualified black choices – in some instances even more than suitably qualified to play. 

This problem doesn’t arise now because there is a World Cup. The current coach has done so since he took the reigns and therefore, by design, is setting back the wheels of change and the leadership of South African rugby allowed it. 

Good luck to the South African rugby senior men national team! Bring back the trophy; the nation is behind you!! 

» Malesela Maleka is employed by the South African Communist Party but writes in his personal capacity

Read more on:    springboks  |  rwc 2015  |  oregan hoskins  |  transformation

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