Transformation may hinder advancement of Springboks, SA rugby


Transformation is politicised as an integral requirement for the advancement of sport in South Africa as a whole, with the dismantling of ‘white systems’ in order to open gateways for the flow of all avenues in the country.

The objective is to balance out equal opportunities – for equality, for the illumination of the once disadvantaged (players of colour). With regards to rugby, transformation leaks significantly out onto the professional platforms, as it is this professional sphere that ‘counts’ and ‘what matters’ for the advancement of the once disadvantaged populate.

However, this being the correct approach for doing so can be highly debated. On the pro-transformation end, players of colour get exposed in the right areas, while coming through the ranks systematically – showing promise for upcoming and future players of colour in the sport.

On the contrary, however, the sport in the country may dilute with talent not necessarily being the first and foremost priority. This can ultimately weaken the competitiveness and quality of the sport in the country, which will cause a decline of the whole professional sphere as a whole.

This begs another debatable question – are players of colour weaker than white players? That question is highly open-ended and can differ from player to player; as each individual is to their own – their best attributes.

With regards to rugby, what are players of colour good at that white players are not good at? Many would argue, ‘nothing’, as the Springboks were well established, enforced and an international power house throughout all the years of suppression. In the years of suppression, the Springboks were to be only white players, as the people of colour were suppressed and marginalised.

Unjust as it was, will transformation advance rugby to new heights in the country or will it cause a decline just to serve justice and equality? After all, what is equality if the now-white players are now to a small extent discriminated against?

In sport, or in the work place for that matter, the best personnel/athletes should be chosen purely on merit with skin colour not even being a factor. That concept suggests the same principle as a player with blonde hair getting chosen above a brunette player – purely just because of the preference in hair colour.

Instead, transformation and balancing out injustices, should rather be developed at the grass roots level of the sport – so that in the near future, players of colour will be chosen purely on merit and nothing else. If development for the once disadvantaged cements at the roots, there will be a plethora of players of colour heeding up the ranks for the succession of the professional paradigm.

Too often in the current set-up is a player of colour called a ‘quota’ player if he gets selected for national duty. Does that respective player deserve that label even if he had worked hard to get where he is? What if, on judgement of the coach, he really does deserve his place? What if he really does not deserve selection, but is there to serve transformation requirements?

This is why transformation requirements should not be implemented at the highest level of rugby. The aforementioned questions would be alleviated if grass root development ensues, rather than development for sporting fame and exposure. The underdeveloped and once disadvantaged would cheer the national ‘quotas’ from their hearts; while having little hope themselves for reaching such a level. What does that help for future sport expansion?

Transformation requirements stipulates that at least five players of colour are to start for the Springboks, with at least four players of colour on the bench – meaning a minimum nine players of the match-23 are supposed to be players of colour. Next year it will increase to a minimum of 10 and the year after a minimum of 11, and so on. What does that mean for the progression of rugby in the country, if possibly up to half the team are forced selections? What will that mean for the Springboks’ future performance value? Time will only tell and the proof will be taken to the field.

A new era has begun for South African rugby with Allister Coetzee as the new coach, with his own targets, goals and agendas building toward the 2019 Rugby World Cup, while being spoilt for choice in the enrichment of seeping talent for national selections. Coetzee on Thursday named his first match-23 to take on Ireland in his first test and already, certain selections (for both the Springboks and South Africa ‘A’), have been deemed quota selections.

In all honesty of judgement, there are only five players of colour chosen for the Springbok side that have been labelled as pure merit selections, namely: centre Lionel Mapoe, wing Lwazi Mvovo, prop Beast Mtawarira, reserve prop Trevor Nyakane and reserve fly half Elton Jantjies. Merit and merit alone has enforced the aforementioned selections, however this is not the case with the other four players of colour chosen.

Controversy shadowed the selection of JP Pietersen over on-form, Ruan Combrinck; Siya Kolisi over the ever-consistent Jaco Kriel; Bongi Mbonambi on the bench over star hooker of the season, Malcolm Marx and Rudy Paige as scrumhalf reserve over perhaps Nic Groom or Piet van Zyl. Piet van Zyl managed to bench Paige at the Bulls, so why does Paige get selected above van Zyl at the more-important national level?

The South African ‘A’ side, described as a ‘major quota-forced team’, selected to play the England Saxons, also contains a host of controversial selections. Is Howard Mnisi, or Francois Venter for that matter, really better than the versatile and brawn Rohan Janse van Rensburg at centre?

Is Nizaam Carr, Oupa Mohoje and Sikhumbuzo Notshe really better than the likes of Jean-Luc and Dan du Preez, Lappies Labuschagne, Arno Botha or even Jannes Kirsten at loose-forwards?

Is Lukhanyo Am as the reserve winger really better than Kobus van Wyk?

Every opinion and judgement to their own, but controversial it still remains as the aforementioned comparisons would have very possibly been different in different spheres of governance and context. After all, the only attribute that should be evaluated is merit.

Strength can only meet strength if the strongest is chosen and the only way for transformation to produce the strongest is for the foundation of the entity as a whole to be fully developed and equipped. The only true way to alleviate the injustices between black and white is to co-join black and white for diversity and unity.   

Image: Springboks Head Coach as of 2016, Allister Coetzee.