Representivity is a pipe-dream

One of this sites regular bloggers, Balls-of-Reason, recently posted a blog about the racial incident in the Lions camp and it seemed to hit a few nerves with the readers. It got me thinking about the quota system and the fact that we need to think ‘Sports Utopia’ and not give any attention to the silly word ’Orania’.
Let me start by simply stating my opinion … I believe the racial quota system is one of the oddest policies ever to be introduced to the sporting world. It supports the notion that the only factor that should and does have an influence on the racial make-up of any sports team is quite simply the racial demographics of the nation or region in question.
Before any (or all) of you brand me a racist please allow me to explain and hopefully justify my opinion:
First, let’s consider some of the other factors that could play a role in determining the racial make-up of any national sports team which could include: access to facilities, level of interest, encouragement, social background, talent and ability, commitment, education … and the list can go on.
Now let’s consider one of the biggest nations in the world as a case study … the USA.
The demographic breakdown of the US population (which totals over 300 million people) by ethnic-origin is roughly as follows (as defined by Wikipedia and in order of size):
White: 66%
Hispanic or Latino: 14.8%
Black or African American: 13.4%
Asian: 4.4%
Other: 6.5%
(The sharp ones amongst you will notice that this adds up to more than 100%. This is because the percentages account for a number of Hispanic/Latino Americans that are mixed race, e.g. Black Hispanic)
Now let’s have a look at one team in each of three major sports in the US and the racial breakdown of their roster of players in this years draft:
National Football League (NFL) – Chicago Bears
White: 28%
Hispanic or Latino: 5%
Black or African American: 67%
Asian: 0%
Other: 0%
National Basketball Association (NBA) – LA Lakers
White: 29%
Hispanic or Latino: 0%
Black or African American: 64%
Asian: 7%
Other: 0%
Major League Baseball (MLB) – New York Yankees
White: 45%
Hispanic or Latino: 45%
Black or African American: 3%
Asian: 7%
Other: 0%
None of these sports even come close to reflecting the national demographics outlined above. Yes, it is a small sample survey but after scanning a number of teams in each of these sports I can assure you that the demographics for the full roster of players in each of these leagues will be very similar to what you see above. Anyone notice the dominance of Black / African Americans in the NBA and the NFL? And then the complete contrast of the MLB? Clearly many factors play a role in the sport that people choose to participate in and, for that matter, the sport they tend to be good at.
Can you imagine the uproar (and level of stupidity) if Barack Obama got on the phone to the guys at the New York Yankees and said that he would like to see at least 10% more Black or African Americans in the team? or if he called the guys at the Chicago Bears and said “Bob, by 2011, I want to see you fielding a side with at least 38% more white folks!”
The point is, when South Africa became a free nation in the early nineties suddenly (and rightly) everything was about undoing all the wrongs of the past and the words ‘previously disadvantaged’ and ‘quota’ and ‘affirmative action’ became a strong part of every persons vocabulary. As a young white South African I can completely understand this and also empathise with the scenario but the NEW South Africa did, and still is, going about this all in the wrong way. Has anyone at the Minister of Sport’s office ever asked the ‘previously disadvantaged’ if they actually WANT to play rugby or cricket?
I would bet money on the fact that many Black South Africans making it in the rugby world or getting those ‘affirmative action’ positions in the business world are no longer ‘previously disadvantaged’ but have had a very privileged life. What we have is all the ‘quotas’ being met (or not) but all the disadvantaged are, well, still disadvantaged!
The emphasis should have been, and should always be, on grass roots. I do believe that politics and sport should mix (in SA anyway) but not at an elite sport level. Make the various sports governing bodies (all of them) accountable for their actions and ensure that development programmes are properly planned and implemented and that people are not just lining their pockets. Then also make the watchers (i.e. the government) more accountable to the tax payer and ensure they aren’t lining their pockets, but then again, we do not live in a world of Genie’s and three wishes!
The answer is to not force the issue but rather provide the necessary resources and motivation for it to occur naturally. Like any brand, every sport should market to their target demographic as well as broaden their target market by marketing to new audiences. If each governing body does this properly then they cannot be held accountable for whether or not a certain demographic group expresses interest in a particular sport. The government simply needs to put their money where their mouth is (and not in their pockets) and do their own research to monitor and ensure this has been done, and more so, that resources have been distributed fairly with a strong concentration on the ‘previously disadvantaged’ areas.
Imagine this scenario within, say, rugby:

    SA Rugby runs a number of grass roots events and programmes annually across the nation to market the game of rugby as well as scout for talent
    Talent is spotted and bursary systems are put into place across the nation enabling the talented youngsters to play rugby and get a high school education at various top rugby schools around the country.
    Some will channel straight from school into the top unions and others can apply for and get bursaries to the various Universities around the country and participate in the Varsity Cup (an excellent talent development channel)
    You end with many talented sports stars reaching their dream and for those who are scouted as players but don’t make the grade at senior level, they now have an education far beyond what they might have had. Who knows, one of them could even grow to be the next CEO of SA Rugby?

Yes, this is all easier said than done, and my proposed solution has been simplified for the purposes of not taking too much of your time. I am sure this utopia can exist though if the South Africans in the right positions (white & black) could drop the race card (and any other hidden agenda) and simply have a stated aim to make all sports accessible to every South African and at the same time use the power of sport to educate and motivate a nation!

Who cares then what colour the guys (and girls) are on the field of play, as long as they are the best we have to offer from a system that is accessible to everyone!
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