We are committed to finding black stars who can make a difference

2014-04-23 10:00

Rugby is unrecognisable from the sport that emerged from ­international isolation in 1992.

We have had a black president since 1998, there have been six black players of the year, a black player is now the leading try scorer in Springbok history, the team has had a black coach, and provincial teams and crowds are more multiracial than before.

Our research also conclusively shows that young and old, black and white South Africans are proud and committed supporters of the national rugby team. They love the fact that the Springboks are winning for South Africa.

You only have to walk around a shopping mall to see the number of people of all races wearing Springbok jerseys to understand that. But we are not complacent.

The SA Rugby Union (Saru) understands that the country sees the game and the Springbok team as a barometer of the progress of transformation in the nation.

This has always been on our agenda and we have invested millions of rands in development initiatives over the years. But we have to be honest and admit that although this has created more rugby activity, it has not produced a conveyor belt of black stars.

These players have emerged from the traditional source of Springbok players down the years. They have come from schools and the high-performance academies that metropolitan rugby unions have established to ­develop outstanding young talent.

The bottleneck has come where promising young black players have not emerged from the ranks of provincial rugby into the professional ranks, particularly into the Vodacom Super Rugby teams from which the Springbok coach makes his selection. If they are not there, he cannot pick them.

Saru recognised the problem and, in August last year, we took the important step of reintroducing quotas at the senior professional level in the Vodacom Cup. No one told us to; no one asked us to. It was a step taken by Saru of its own accord to address the very question that the sports minister has brought back into the limelight.

Even before that, we had recognised that an impediment to the development of black players was the disparity in coaching, conditioning and nutrition they get compared to their white team-mates.

Our research showed these black players to be significantly smaller and lighter. No one can deny the fact that rugby is a game of collisions, where the laws of physics will favour the object that travels with greater force.

We have opened four development academies in the Eastern,Southern and Western Cape?–?with funding from the Lotto?–?that are focused on addressing these issues and producing black Springboks.

This is why we welcome the Eminent Persons Group transformation report which, lest anyone forget, gave rugby a “good” rating and put us at the top of the scorecard of five federations.

We are already aligned to the minister’s national sports plan, and are ready and eager to engage and show that rugby can make a difference.

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