Transformation of rugby and cricket, the missing link in the debate

2015-06-07 13:20

Rugby as a sport in South Africa emerged in the late 18th century with Europeans credited as the main-founders of the game (SA History online). It could be argued that, rugby formed part of the “cultural practices” that Europeans were accustomed to. The Europeans battled amongst each other shifting attention from football which initially was introduced mainly by the British. The Afrikaners who claim to own the sport and as documented history indicates, were clapped by British in the first official rugby match recorded (http://www.rugbyfootballhistory.com/south_africa.html). With time, the Afrikaners ‘as always’ mastered the game of rugby while Britain flourished in the game of football and cricket.

Both Rugby and Cricket were played in public schools, thanks to the British who viewed sports as another tool that could be used to organize a society and its people. During that time, blacks were also allowed to play the sport especially in British public schools (especially children of traditional African regiments).

In fact, sport was used as a way of “encouraging respectability in the emerging ‘non’-white middle class during the early 19th century” (http://www.rugbyfootballhistory.com/south_africa.html). Not sure about “non-white” but, Blacks as “usual” adopted the sport as theirs too. This was possible considering the fact that it was played professionally by their colonizers to whom they had bestowed high regard. So, playing rugby as Steve Biko would argue, meant being civilized at least in the minds of the colonized, the blacks.

Generally, the sport was dominated by Afrikaners especially after they lost to the British who were their political foe. Mastering the game and dominating it was an expression of renascent of sort. It meant not only playing a game (sport) but a physical revenge camouflaged as a game. Afrikaners wanted to dominate the British on the sports field as that would restore their pride.

What is even more interesting is the fact that, Rugby and Cricket, especially Rugby became the sport it is in South Africa partly because White business men including government invested a lot of money in the development of the sport. In my view, this is due to the fact that the sport was supported and played by the people whom these business men and government wanted to develop (their white folks). Hence, I disagree with the idea that whites are “individualistic” in nature (but that’s another debate for another opinion piece).

What is puzzling me even more today with all the emphasis and noise on Rugby and Cricket being racially inclusive is the fact that, Black business men and women, Executive and/Non-executive members of some of the highly regarded companies, including politicians--take their children to the most expensive schools (e.g. Hilton, Hoërskool Framesby, Grey, Wineberg, etc.) don't support the development of rugby in black schools or townships, and the thousands they spend paying fees in these predominantly white schools help subsidize these schools to promote the racially exclusive rugby (what I refer to as the missing link).

In my view, these schools have few blacks who eventually get to play for the big rugby leagues because let’s face it, more white boys eat, breath and drink rugby from an early age at home before they even get to Hilton (for example) as I’ve illustrated with the history of rugby above, rugby has become the culture, and is generational in the Afrikaans families. Whereas, if Motsepe’s boys or Lusu’s boy/s play rugby at Hilton, their parents’ probably don’t even have interest in that rugby, they never played it, they have no cultural ties with it what so ever. So, these schools continue to produce white players for Sharks, Bulls etc. which will later feed into the national team. Yes, few black boys with determination without the emotional support from home will emerge as stars too which is generally what we’ve seen over the years (few black players who come from poor backgrounds but taken to rugby academies from an early age).

President of SARU Oregan Hoskins was interviewed by Xolani Gwala on SAfm sometime in 2013, he mentioned that, the growing black middle class has managed to create an enabling environment for their kids to play rugby because they are well fed (nutritionally). Meaning, without proper nutritious food, rugby is almost impossible for one to play at a competitive level such as Springbok or National club level, at least. Hence, players like Mfundeko Ngam (former SA cricketer) didn’t last for long in cricket inundated with injuries, the noted reason was dietary inadequacy from an early age.

So, yes we have good players who play domestic rugby who are black, but rugby, at least deducing from the president’s views takes a lot more than just being good, one must stand the test of the sport, and nutrition plays an important role.

The hypocrisy of the black middle class which is making so much noise about the racial imbalances in terms of representation in rugby and cricket is not even contributing to the development of these children at school level, yet they have the audacity to cry foul over the decisions made by the rugby technical team and coaches at national level.

I mean, the feeding scheme provided by government might help the learner focus at school but it contributes less to the bone, muscle and body development of the child.

My point therefore is; more money must be pumped into development of the black children holistically if we are to have a racially representative rugby and cricket squads in South Africa. The debate must incorporate the role of emerging black business men together with government to provide basic nutrition for our promising black rugby and cricket players. This must not be done when the talent has been identified which is mostly at high school level, this support must be at primary level where the learners’ bones, muscles and body are still shaping up. The mind is important also in playing such a contact and physical sport as rugby, and again, nutrition has been scientifically identified to play a major role in the area of cognitive development.

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