Gary Boshoff

Quotas: Good or bad?

2007-11-12 09:32

Gary Boshoff

It's silly season again in SA Rugby and as always we're in for a very interesting period of tactical manoeuvrings, political grandstanding and as they say in Pretoria (or is it Tshwane?) "koukusse" (caucusing).

The battle lines have been drawn between the incumbent, Oregan Hoskins and his deputy, Mike Stofile. We'd better hold on tight because this tussle has the potential to leave Saru with much bigger challenges than what the organisation has had to contend with up to now.

However, I don't want to waste too much time on the factional infighting in Saru as it tends to divert one's attention from matters of greater importance.

First, let me comment on the widely reported statements by President Thabo Mbeki and Minister of Sport, Makhenkesi Stofile on quotas and how the government will henceforth not prescribe the composition of any national team that represents South Africa on the sports field - including rugby.

The president of Saru, Oregan Hoskins, also emphasised the point by stating that he was never in favour of quotas and that it has been counter-productive as a strategy to bring about transformation. This view was also articulated by the Minister of Sport in his statement.

Inferior black players

Central to their thesis is the view that teams should at all times be selected on merit (whatever the term implies in their frame of reference), implying that black players that were selected through the quota system were/are by definition inferior or just not as good as their white counterparts. In my view, this is nonsense as it was certainly not evident in their performances thus far.

At the time when the quota system was introduced into rugby, the motivation behind it was NOT to help inferior black rugby players gain selection into representative rugby teams.

On the contrary, it came about as an attempt to overcome the inherent prejudice of ignorant white administrators, coaches and of late, players' agents towards black rugby players. It was introduced because talented and senior black players were seen not to be treated fairly by these primarily white coaches and administrators.

Merit was therefore never under threat, or should I say, it should never have been perceived to be under threat.

However, as it goes with sport and politics, it has now become socially and politically convenient for our leaders to suddenly proclaim "merit" as the "sole criteria for selection"; exposing their own ignorance of the sport they are now supposedly trying to rescue.

Racial discrimination

I have always argued in favour of quotas and I still see it as a necessary tool to combat the prejudicial attitudes towards black players that are still very much prevalent in some of our rugby unions and franchises.

I can give many examples where players have confided in me on how they were/are treated by coaches, CEOs, and agents, which smacks of outright racial discrimination and prejudice.

Therefore, in response to the view that quotas were unsuccessful as a transformation strategy I always produce the following list of players who were products of the so-called unsuccessful quota system.

Sadly today, some of these players have gone on record denouncing the transformation strategy that brought them fame and fortune:

Chester Williams and Thinus Linee were only selected into the Springbok touring side to Australia after Sarfu president at the time, Ebrahim Patel, vetoed the team of the selectors. Both of them went on to become two of the first regular black Springboks. Today they still reap the fruits of that act of "forced transformation" (read quotas) by Patel.

Similar opportunity

Since Chester and Thinus, the doors of representative rugby were opened to black players, even if it was only in a very, very small measure. Many followed in their footsteps and made it to Currie Cup, Super 12/14 and even Springbok level, despite the prejudicial attitudes towards them.

The quota system launched the careers of many black players at the junior levels, ensuring that talented black players (not inferior ones incapable of playing the game exceptionally well), play the game with their white peers and at least have a reasonably similar opportunity to reach the top.

In cricket, Makhaya Ntini was once regarded as a quota player: something he certainly hasn't been for a long time since those early days. He had the opportunity to prove he was not - the quota system gave him that opportunity.

So to say that the quota system was unsuccessful and a mistake, is in my view more than a mistake, it is a travesty!

  • Gary Boshoff is a former Saru player and well-known rugby administrator.

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