Time to repair the damage

2012-06-02 00:00

TWO weeks ago Cricket South Africa (CSA) announced the launch of a transformation fund to accelerate the progress of cricket towards a situation where the game’s participants at all levels reflect the demographics of the country.

If we are talking of a very long time span it is difficult to argue with such a mission, but there is such a thing as planning too far ahead.

The acting president of CSA, Dr Willie Basson, is of the opinion that blacks have thus far been failed by the lengthy and expensive processes of transformation undertaken by successive administrations of the game at both provincial and national level. If any credibility is to be given to Basson’s opinion, one must exclude coloureds and Asiatics from his generalisation because their emergence, together with that of the great Makhaya Ntini, into the national and provincial teams has been the most encouraging story of cricket’s post apartheid era.

There is an argument that nearly all of the black players who have played for the Proteas were products of structures that were in place before 1999 — when the process of transformation as opposed to development first entered the lexicon of South African cricket.

This would leave Lonwabe Tsotsobe as the best known beneficiary of a programme that has cost cricket in this country millions of rands, apart from the loss of those cricketers now playing with distinction for other countries.

I would agree with Basson that the transformation of cricket has been a failure but add that its impact has been disappointing for several reasons and not just for its obvious inability to elevate black players into the national team. From the outset it was apparent that transformation meant different things to different people. Some thought that resources needed to be devoted to providing opportunities to those sections of our population who had been denied the chance to play cricket under the apartheid regime. This was a noble ambition with which few would argue, notwithstanding the limited resources available to cricket.

Others argued that resources would be best spent if devoted to those areas where cricket had already obtained some kind of purchase. This resonated strongly with those familiar with the biblical parable that teaches against the practice of casting seeds on stony ground.

In this respect the fertile areas were clearly the Western and Eastern Cape together with certain parts of KZN where the game was keenly played and followed by all race groups. Nobody suggested that blacks be excluded from the game, rather that priority should be given to the development of schools, tertiary institutions and clubs where the game could be played by blacks within easy reach of their homes, places of study or workplaces. The gospel would then be spread from establishments of success.

Numerous blacks had been introduced to the game through the medium of softball cricket, but the opportunities for those who came through that system were largely limited to the lucky few who obtained scholarship to “white” cricket schools.

While records have not been kept of these scholarship children, I suspect that the wastage has been enormous, although not out of line with the standard wastage of all schoolboy cricketers. This is one of the game’s greatest problems. In this respect I applaud CSA’s new initiative to focus more on amateur cricket so that talented boys are encouraged to play the game upon leaving school.

Others thought that transformation meant the simple filling of quotas for blacks in teams and administration structures throughout the country. Sadly it was this view that prevailed resulting in the enormous wastage of resources both human and financial that is typical of any form of social engineering.

At the heart of any discussion on the way forward for the game in this country must be the understanding that cricket is an elite sport. Any game that requires so much time, space and expensive equipment to play cannot be regarded as anything else. No amount of wishing it to be different can make it so.

It is an elite sport everywhere even in populous India. This does not mean that superstars cannot emerge from the masses.

Television can ignite the flame in any youngster and wherever they come from they will prosper provided that there are structures such as clubs where these kids can play and feel welcome.

The world is full of cases where children from poverty-stricken backgrounds have become global superstars. Behind all of them have been parents, schoolteachers or clubs who were able to recognise and nurture talent.

If the purpose of Basson’s fund is to provide these facilities, I welcome its birth, but if its objective is to shortcut cricket’s path to becoming a black sport then considerable caution is required.

As long as most of our cricketers emerge from existing structures, which have been in place for many years, cricket in South Africa will be a multicultural game.

Its players will come from diverse backgrounds and the game, as we have already seen, is richer for it. Hell, we may even entice a few white, English-speaking kids to try and earn a living from it.

It would be foolish to interfere with the most successful aspect of cricket in the rainbow nation which is the ability of its pipeline to produce a continual stream of top class cricketers. It is both bizarre and a refutation of any foolish demographic theory that four players in the number one ranked team in the world come from a minority group in South Africa. It would be unwise if CSA’s plans became focused on demographics just at a time when our cricketers are reaping the rewards of a free society.

It would be better by far if CSA concentrated now on repairing the damage caused by the policy of putting into positions of authority individuals who had neither the training nor ability to carry out their responsibilities.

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