OPINION | Black Lives Matter in rugby: Black administrators must share blame

Kaunda Ntunja in action for SA Schools against SA Academy at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on 7 August 1999.
Kaunda Ntunja in action for SA Schools against SA Academy at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on 7 August 1999.
Duif du Toit/Gallo Images
  • Sas Bailey set the marker for black administrators in rugby's early years of unity and told them to prepare to fight for transformation.
  • There were black administrators who, once appointed into top positions, were content to enjoy the perks and forgot about the goal of inclusivity in rugby.
  • Black administrators who could have done something didn't fight enough for SA Schools and SA Under-19 captain Kaunda Ntunja to have playing opportunities once he turned professional.

Sas Bailey, the first black South African Rugby Football Union (SARFU) general manager, once said to me that black rugby administrators who entered the powerful white male-dominated South Africa rugby institution must understand they were entering a warzone.

He said we must be prepared for combat, as we will face stiff resistance to transformation, and that if there is no fight in the SA Rugby boardrooms, one must know that the appointed black administrators are selling out the cause of transformation.

His words have been ringing in my ears the last couple of weeks in the heat of the Black Lives Matter movement and conversation that have made its way into rugby.

When I was a SARFU administrator in 1997, I witnessed Bailey getting involved in bruising battles with selectors from schoolboy to Springbok level.

He questioned the application of the quota system as well as the overt and covert resistance to transformation. Some of the black administrators were with him, or pretended to be with him, so long as their own cushy administrative positions weren't threatened.

This was the early era of integration, which was never going to be painless, and it began to push the transformation ship in the right direction.

However, to sustain the momentum, it needed administrators who were not driven by self-interest, but by a total commitment to a non-racial and inclusive society in our sport and country.

When we began this journey, we helped set up the platform for the talents of Breyton Paulse, Conrad Jantjes, Kaya Malotana and Solly Tyibilika to be seen.

The strong late 90s transformation push also allowed coaches such as Peter de Villiers, Allister Coetzee and David Dobela to move up the queue of opportunity.

Bailey fought fiercely to keep the ship afloat, but unfortunately, there were those among us who would not steer the ship if their personal agendas were threatened - they would have rather let it sink than letting go of the privileges that came with it.

Bailey was never going to last so long as he was pushing an aggressive transformation policy. He was soon pushed out in favour of conformist administrators.

Here I refer to some black coaches, elected administrators and others who failed to help implement the radical transformation project and only spoke about it later when the system dumped them.

Now that we are in the throngs of a deep Black Lives Matter debate and people have the courage to share their experiences in sport such as rugby and cricket, it's important to take stock of what happened in the past.

It's also important to acknowledge the role black administrators played either by turning a blind eye or helping stall true inclusivity, in some of the experiences being aired by players.

We can sometimes take for granted the impact of administrative decisions in the career paths of successful and unsuccessful black rugby players.

I'll use the analogy of the late Kaunda Ntunja's playing career. In 2000, he was the first black African SA Schools captain and a promising flanker who came out of a strong 1999 Dale College First XV.

I first met him when I was a SARFU development officer and he was the captain of the SA Under-19 side that had a camp ahead of the IRB Under-19 World Cup.

He was earmarked to be one of those who would at least play Super Rugby and even represent the Springboks. But when he got out of the age group cocoon, he never got good opportunities to play at professional level.

He was in Durban and then at Free State, but his game time was minimal and no Super Rugby franchise was interested in contracting him during his early peak. It frustrated him.

Yes, he got injuries, like any other player during their career, but I don't buy the idea that injuries were what hampered his career. I think he was frustrated that he could not fulfil his dream at senior level, despite showing much promise as a junior.

He was even called up to the Lions by Loffie Eloff, who promised him some Super Rugby game time but that never materialised. Hence, he prematurely called it quits and picked up the mic as a commentator.

In my view, he should have made his name more on the rugby field than on the microphone. He needed black administrators to fight for his inclusion in provincial senior teams and franchises because of the promise he showed as a junior international.

Rugby can sometimes be an institution where only conformists survive. It is true that black rugby administrators have never mounted a consistent effort to affect total transformation, despite serving in various high-profile capacities in the game.

The majority of the post-unity South African Rugby Union (SARU) presidents - from Silas Nkanunu, Brian van Rooyen, Oregan Hoskins and Mark Alexander - have been black.

Of those, I'd say Van Rooyen was the most aggressive in his transformation stance. Alexander has to take some credit for overseeing a transformed Springboks lift the Rugby World Cup with Siya Kolisi as captain, but he has much to do to ensure black coaches have opportunities in the game.

We've had two black Springbok coaches - De Villiers and Coetzee - and, even though no black Africans have coached the men's national team, it's debatable whether they fast-tracked inclusivity in their terms in charge.

Over the years, there have been sporadic outcries from groups similar to the one that joined Lungi Ngidi's Black Lives Matter stance. It must be mentioned that there are some in the group that stood up for Ngidi who failed to push transformation when they were in positions of power.

The fact that there are no black head coaches in the six franchises cannot only be blamed on white administrators. The black administrators who were elected on the ticket of advancing transformation have failed the people they claim to represent.

Luvuyo Matsha is the Valke team manager and has served as a match commissioner throughout various SA Rugby competitions, including Super Rugby. He was the SA Rugby development officer between 1997 and 2000.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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