News that Cricket South Africa (CSA) may be hardening and increasing racial quotas for the national side may surprise some, but it isn’t entirely unexpected.
This has been the broad direction of government policy for some time, and, as we all know, even sports are exposed to the threat of government meddling.
Currently, CSA expects the national cricket side to have a quota of players of colour (POCs) in each match. The current quota (applicable to the season rather than each match) is that the Proteas must play six POCs, three of whom must be black (this, recently increased from two).
Reports indicated that the quota would be increased immediately to ensure that by the 2022/23 season the Proteas would have to play, on average, seven POCs per match. It was also reported that the average proportion of black players over a season would have to be 33% by 2022/23. This is equivalent to about 3.5 black players playing in a match (the fact that cricket teams are made up of eleven players, a number not suited to easy division or mental sums, means it makes the job of racial bean-counting more difficult).
Subsequently, however, CSA – largely thanks to the new interim board appointed after the body almost collapsed – has said that the old quotas remain in effect.
But the question must be asked: are these fairly rigid quotas the best way to ensure greater involvement of people formerly excluded from the game?
Some may argue that the blunt force of quotas – for the Proteas, and for provincial and franchise sides – has indeed been successful, and they will say this is evident in the growing number of black players in the Proteas side. This may be true, but it impossible to prove the opposite. As there isn’t a non-quotas version of South African cricket to use as a control group, the efficacy of quotas cannot be proved either way.
And it must be asked whether a player who may not be in the best form or be low on confidence is being well served by being made to play purely to ensure that political considerations such as quotas are met.
Lutho Sipamla, a promising young fast bowler, had a torrid time in the last match of the recent T20I series against England, going for 45 runs in just under three overs. Sipamla had not played a game since March and has not turned out for his franchise side this season. There was speculation that he had only played because Kagiso Rabada was injured, and, because of the political imperative, only a black player could replace him. When some on Twitter wondered whether it did Sipamla any good to play, given his lack of game time, they were, perhaps unsurprisingly, dismissed by others as racist or 'anti-transformation'.
And anyway, ordinary South Africans do not want their national sides picked according to quotas, and a number of former black players have said they disagree with the use of quotas. The latter comes as no surprise, as there are few things as demeaning as simply being viewed as an envoy for your race, rather than being judged on your merits as an individual.
Surveys by the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) show that 83% of South Africans want their teams selected on merit. Some 82% of black South Africans hold this view. That said, even without enforcing quotas, the current Proteas squad would look very similar to the one selectors chose.
Mary Ann Dove, a researcher at the University of Cape Town, is the author of a study of perceptions of racial quotas among professional cricketers and coaches. Writing in The Conversation, she showed that while some cricketers (who responded anonymously) thought quotas were an effective measure, others felt it did as much damage as it did good.
One anonymous respondent said: "It will provide you short-term solutions in a sense that in a team you will see three black African cricketers and that all looks good, but whether you are developing them for the next five or ten years; I don’t think it’s the most effective solution."
Another said: "Quotas allow administrators to avoid doing proper development."
And there's the rub.
It is easy, all things considered, to say the Proteas have to have a certain number of black players, or coloured or Indian players, in each side. What is more difficult is ensuring sustainable development, which means that people who want to play the game have the equipment to do so, safe and well-maintained places where they can practise and play the game, and, if possible, coaches who have a passion for the game.
As it stands, only six percent of South African state schools have cricket facilities.
Dove also notes: "Quotas don’t address the wider socio-economic inequities that continue to plague South Africa. Relevant inequities include high levels of poverty among black South Africans, poor schooling and limited sporting facilities for many children. Furthermore, differing family structures, for example a high number of single-parent families, make it more difficult for some parents to support players financially and logistically in pursuing their sporting dreams."
This is reflected in the statistics of the premier South African first-class competition. Information from a South African statistician living in the Netherlands, Shaun Rheeder, shows that black batsmen fare worse than black bowlers. This is unsurprising; batting is the far more technical discipline and very few cricketers crack it at professional level without having had a decent level of coaching in the course of learning to play the game.
Looking at the last two seasons and the beginning of this season (excluding recently ended matches), no black batsman is in the top 10 run-scorers, with seven white players and three coloured players rounding out the top 10. Sinethemba Qeshile comes in at 11th, having scored 1 249 runs at the respectable average of 37.9.
The picture with bowlers is significantly different. Of the top 10 wicket-takers over the same period, only two are white. Coloured and Indian players account for six of the top 10 wicket-takers, while Malusi Siboto and the aforementioned Sipamla are also in the top 10.
Given this, the brute force use of quotas amounts simply to tinkering at the edges.
True transformation will only come from sustainable development, which will require hard work; the construction and maintenance of cricket fields and nets across the country; the supply of cricket equipment to those who need it and can’t afford it; and the availability of good coaches. At the same time, the socio-economic situation of many South Africans also means playing cricket remains a pipedream, as pointed out by Dove.
As long as South Africa continues to regress economically, true transformation will remain elusive and the use of quotas for the Proteas will simply be a band-aid on a gaping wound.
Marius Roodt is a writer and senior policy researcher at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), a liberal think tank that promotes social and economic liberty.
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