Johnnie Isaac


South African rugby represents the “rainbow failure”, says rugby writer Mark Fredericks, and quotas will not help.

In an 12-page paper written for the International Sports Journal titled Injury Time – the rise of the 80-minute nation, he argues that rugby had never committed itself to racial inclusion.

In September, the South African Rugby Union (Saru) said it would reintroduce quotas in rugby for the 2015 Vodacom Cup. All local teams that participated would be required to register seven black players and play five of them per game. Saru wants 50/50 representation by 2019 in the Springbok team.

The move followed Minister of Sports Fikile Mbalula’s call for 60/40 percent representation in all sports with blacks forming the majority.

Fredericks said this would not work because the method used was the same method that had always sidelined black players. “There has never been a Springbok team selected on merit. Since 1906 to the Springboks team currently on tour in Europe, there was always a racial agenda.”

He said, “We have not added new schools in the system. We take promising rugby players from elsewhere and put them in the same rugby-elite schools. We’re not transforming the schools.”

Fredericks said South Africa was a nation geared for quick fixes, forever trying to force glorious moments down the throats of the masses.

In an interview with GroundUp, Fredericks said Springbok victories had led to fake patriotism, the celebration of a “rainbow failure”, and continued ignorance of socio-economic inequalities.

He said rugby authorities did not care what happened off the rugby field.

“How can Western Province celebrate a Currie Cup win in a city that is plagued by gang violence which is at its highest in three years?” The Springboks had played a game two days after 34 Marikana miners were gunned down by police in 2012, but they had not observed a moment of silence, he said.

Zola Ntlokoma, the secretary of Soweto Rugby Club, said quotas in the form to be introduced next year were degrading to the image of black rugby players and administrators.

“Can you imagine a player like Bryan Habana, who has won an IRB World Cup, feels [like] when he is tagged as a quota player? Such tags [like quotas] have a negative stigma for black rugby players.” Ntlokoma said many black rugby players were still referred to as developmental players even though they played professionally.

He said rather than quotas he supported the redirection of resources towards the development of rugby in poor areas.

But Alfred Kewana of Langa based BusyBee Rugby Club said he welcomed the reintroduction of rugby quotas. “We need to see the team that represents us [as majority citizens of the country] in the field; quotas will bring consistency to the number of black players that are being selected and [who] play,” said Kewana. He said he was disappointed to see the selection of 35-year-old Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha when the Springboks should be grooming new talent for the Rugby World Cup next year.

Murray Ingram and Yanga Qinga, who are running sports including rugby through Connect Community Development, said transformation in the Springbok team could not be achieved while grassroots development was ignored.

“When you talk transformation you’re talking resources; when you talk about resources you’re talking about sports facilities, shorts, shirts, boots and balls. Nutrition for the players also plays a part,” said Ingram. Players needed to be developed from a young age.

Ingram said good players in the townships were given scholarships to go to traditional rugby schools. Rugby needed to break out of this. “There are no easy fixes to this, but the current approach is just like patching up cracks,” said Ingram.

Qinga said it was difficult for township players to tackle rugby schools in the suburbs. “There was a huge culture shock when we took them for the first game outside the township, but in time they’ll be comfortable and confident.”

Culture was an issue in rugby. He said some players end up quitting because they cannot come to terms with the rugby culture and adapt to it.

The isolation of South Africa’s sports teams had helped in the fight against apartheid, said Fredericks, and Nelson Mandela had used rugby to usher in a new dawn when he donned the Springbok jersey in 1995. But, Fredericks said, the sport had failed to live beyond those 80 minutes of glory, despite the Hollywood Blockbuster Invictus.

He criticised the “Invictus moment” which marked the Springbok triumph of 1995.

“In a country torn apart by racial strife, devastating poverty, huge social inequalities, and crippling violent crime, leadership was needed much more than the distraction of championship.”



Main Pic by David Harrison

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