Durban – Racial quotas for rugby teams competing in next year’s Vodacom Cup season could prove to be divisive, according to a young black Sharks winger who wants players to be picked on merit.
Sibusiso Sithole, who plays in the Vodacom Cup and Currie Cup tournaments for the Sharks, said while in theory the quota system was good, it could have unintended consequences in the changeroom and on the field.
“The rule will give players that wouldn’t be spotted a chance,” he said, “though as a player, I would like to know that I’m on the field because I’m good enough and deserving, not because I’m black.”
AfriForum has threatened to instruct its members to boycott the Vodacom Cup if the SA Rugby Union (Saru) does not retract its decision to enforce racial quotas in the tournament.
Saru announced on that a minimum of seven black players would have to be selected in the 22-man squad for each team in the competition.
Among those players, two would have to be forwards and five would have to be in the starting line-up.
The KZN Rugby Union has also expressed concern about the quota, but said it supported transformation. The union said quotas would help bring more black players into the game.
Sithole said that although the directive might help some emerging players, it might also bring hostility between players who did not fall within the quota system.
“Rugby is a competitive sport, if you work hard enough you will be on the field. We need to get to the stage where we are not chosen on colour,” he said.
The winger said there was an adequate number of black players represented in the Sharks side in last season’s Vodacom and Currie Cup, but the emergence of more black players would be great.
Graham MacKenzie, president of the KZN Rugby Union, said he supported transformation initiatives.
“The Vodacom Cup is supposed to be a developmental initiative, we want to go back to that,” he said.
“People have been sidetracked by all the prize money that comes with it, but it remains crucial in developing players.”
MacKenzie said although he did not like quotas, the aim was to “get more players of colour coming through the system”.
However, no sanctions have been promised for teams who fail to meet the racial quota.
“There are no sanctions as far as we understand, we are working on the spirit of the agreement,” MacKenzie said.
He said KZN club rugby was “very healthy” in terms of transformation efforts, with the proportion of black and white players “not too far off”.
“The numbers at club level are increasingly getting healthier, we are looking everywhere for players to develop and nurture players. It’s a very vigorous process,” he said.
The chairman of Sydenham-based Jaguars rugby club, Vuyo Matomela, welcomed the idea of racial quotas.
“Township players don’t have agents or know the market enough to get themselves earmarked for places in the big clubs,” he said.
Matomela believed the number of black players needed to be increased each year, otherwise coaches would just pick the minimum of seven.
He said when the players moved to Currie Cup and Super Rugby level, a similar rule needed to be enforced for them not to fall through the system.
Peter Zulch, chairman of Amanzimtoti Rugby Club, said while he believed in the principle of the quota system, he feared that for some of the franchises it would just be window-dressing.
”It’s easy to spot a player is not supposed to be on the field – by their performance,” that He said: “You can field all the black players you want, but if they don’t bring in the silverware, nobody will support you.”
According to Zulch, if Saru could get things right at grassroots level, irrespective of colour, players would come through the ranks and ply their trade on an equal footing.