Springbok captain Siya Kolisi  Photo: BackpagePix
Springbok captain Siya Kolisi Photo: BackpagePix

SA rugby must follow Proteas' transformation blueprint

By Mark Keohane Time of article published Jan 18, 2019

Share this article:

Transformation is not specific to an occasion in South African sport but a way of life - and a very good way of life.

Why the continued bleating about transformation? Why does the voice of a white minority always carry such weight when assessed against the plight of a majority?

Transformation isn’t a discussion, but the reality of a country in which the minority still preach from a position of injustice when it is the majority who suffered the injustice.

South Africa’s cultural diversity is a strength and in a sporting context, no national team reflects this multicultural magnificence more than the Proteas cricket side that crushed Pakistan 3-0 in the summer Test series.

The Proteas, in team make-up and balance, speak to every South African. When the minority mouths off about how transformation is destroying South African sport, there is very little factually to support the emotional outburst.

A few years ago the Proteas beat Australia 5-0 in a home one-day series. No country, in the history of Australian cricket, had ever beaten them 5-0 in this format of the game. There were eight players of colour in the Proteas team of eleven.

Wonderfully talented South African cricketers produced brilliant performances. It was the result of these players getting opportunities at franchise and provincial level.

Call it quotas, call it whatever you want, but without the enforced selection policy in South African domestic cricket, the national team would not be the transformed world-beaters of today.

The Proteas are ranked second in Test cricket and, over the past five years, have been top of the Test and ODI rankings. They’ve done this with a transformed squad whose selections were because of performance. 

Players can’t perform if they don’t get selected and cricket’s bosses recognised this because of ongoing prejudice from white selectors and coaches at domestic level.

The game’s national custodians took decisions to ensure the health of the game on the playing field. They enforced a quota system in domestic cricket that speaks to the future and the imbalances of the past.

The minority screamed prejudice.

Some white players sought international futures elsewhere because they felt they were the victims and that players of colour were the victors of transformation. It was an ignorant view because the very best white players never lost out on selection. For the Kevin Pietersen who turned to England, one AB de Villiers stayed and backed himself to make the national team, regardless of his skin colour.

Rugby must follow cricket’s transformation blueprint and enforce a quota selection policy in Super Rugby and domestic rugby. Springbok rugby can never realistically meet the national team transformation target of 50% if three of the four Super Rugby franchises have never got anywhere near 50%.

It is about time spent on the field and South African Super Rugby statistics in the last 20 years are appalling in the limited black player game time that gets referenced as a commitment to transformation.

Too many concessions continue to be made within South African rugby, especially when it comes to Super Rugby selection.

The focus is always on a numbers game within the Springboks, but if the numbers don’t add up in Super Rugby, the targets will never be reached at national level. The regional resistance in South African rugby undermines Springbok rugby’s transformation.

Cricket South Africa, because of the domestic quota system, created the pool of player talent domestically and delivered the most transformed national team in the history of this country - a team that has also proved to be among the most successful.

Keohane, a multiple award-winning sports journalist, is the head of sport at Independent Media

Share this article: