CAP TOWN - Cricket South Africa are confident they won’t be getting any ‘death stares’ from sports minister Fikile Mbalula next month. The organisation has fulfilled their mandate as far as the transformation targets for the men’s national team are concerned.
There may still be some who will question how they came up with the system that measures the participation of black players across all three formats, over the course of a season, rather than on a match-by-match basis, but even those critics would be hard-pressed to question CSA’s sincerity.
It was with much brouhaha that Mbalula announced last April that CSA, SA Rugby, Athletics SA and Netball SA would not be allowed to bid for international events to be hosted in South Africa because they had not fulfilled the transformation criteria they had agreed to with the Department of Sport and Recreation through the Eminent Persons Group.
All of those sports federations are set to report back to Mbalula and the EPG next month, where the data from the last year will be reviewed and made public. In the meanwhile Mbalula has been quick to throw the government’s support behind SA Rugby in its bid to host the 2023 World Cup even though the transformation targets haven’t been reviewed yet.
Perhaps like last year’s announcement, Mbalula’s public support is just another attempt to distract from the horrendous cock-up that was the removal of Durban as the host city for the 2022 Commonwealth Games. No heads have rolled for that failure even though R118-million worth of taxpayers’ money appears to have disappeared down the drain.
Last year Mbalula’s very public admonishing of those sporting codes seemed to be a not-so-subtle tactic to grab attention away from the ANC’s woeful local government election campaign.
But the minister’s outrage looked meaningless then and looks even more so now given the enthusiasm that the government is showing to support SA Rugby in its bid to host the World Cup in six years’ time.
By using it as a political tool, what Mbalula’s actions did last year was to devalue the very important work being done around transformation.
Nevertheless in Cricket SA’s case the organisation took very seriously the minister’s sharp criticism - whatever its motives - and the body held a series of meetings with the EPG to understand better how it arrived at its findings. To say cricket officials were bamboozled last year would be an understatement. Privately many just laughed at how the EPG came up with and then presented its figures.
It was not just enough to laugh it off though. They had to show they could work within the parameters of what the EPG required and more importantly, especially in cricket’s case, genuinely expand the game in a manner in which excellence was underscored at the same time as opportunities to play the game were being provided.
Cricket South Africa had been working towards that for a few seasons and naturally there were bumps along the way. Most notably in the 2015/16 season when CSA received a letter from black African cricketers who were unhappy with the manner in which they were being treated, while later that season certain white cricketers threatened a boycott feeling that they were likely to lose their places at provincial and franchise level and thus their means of income.
Cricket SA have pressed ahead with the transformation targets domestically and that has had an impact on the national team, particularly this season.
Lungi Ngidi and Andile Phehlukwayo have both made an impression at international level. And domestically Sibonelo Makhanya has established his credentials for the Dolphins in the limited overs formats while Aviwe Mgijima has slowly made himself almost indispensable at the Cobras.
Good white players have risen to the fore too, most notably Aiden Markram at the Titans, while Duanne Olivier, Theunis de Bruyn and Heinrich Klaasen have all been given a taste of the Proteas set-up.
None of which is to say everything is suddenly hunky-dory.
Cricket South Africa still has a lot of work to do to ensure players are given opportunities at franchise level and this season it’s apparent that the establishment of a seventh franchise is essential - something which a review of the domestic game undertaken earlier this season, recommended.
Cricket South Africa had set targets for the national men’s team to play an average minimum of 54 per cent black players and average minimum of 18 per cent black African players over the season.
They have exceeded those targets - black players have averaged 55.51 per cent over the season and black African players 19.15 per cent.
The lowest number of black players to start an international for the Proteas this season was four - in the third ODI against Australia last October - while the highest number to feature was eight in the final T20 against Sri Lanka in January.
We’ll know soon how Mbalula assesses those developments, but it is crucial his faux anger is set aside, for the work being done by sports bodies regarding transformation is a very serious business indeed.