By Masood Boomgard

The KwaZulu-Natal rugby union is “racist” and a lobby group of rugby officials has threatened to pull out all black players and clubs from the organisation if transformation is not speeded up.

This was the dire threat from the KZN Rugby Union Transformation Committee Task Group, which served a memorandum on union president Peter Hassard and Sharks CEO Brian van Zyl this week. A copy of the document was also sent to Minister of Sport Makhenkesi Stofile.

The demands have been made public only days before the provincial union hosts a Currie Cup home semi-final, and with the Sharks sitting top of the log.

The group, which is involved in the union’s rugby development, has given the KZN Rugby Union until Wednesday to respond before it stages a “total and immediate walkout of every black club, school, KZNRU player and representative black official within the KZNRU”.

Rugby authorities have declined to elaborate on the drama, saying only that they have promised to meet the disgruntled group in a week.

Unhappiness with the pace of transformation in the sport was recently in the spotlight when it emerged Absa, the main sponsor of Currie Cup rugby, had complained to SA Rugby Union president Oregan Hoskins about the low number of black players in provincial squads.

He in turn sent a letter to provincial unions, urging them to transform their teams, and then defended the bank, saying it had not insisted on quotas or threatened to withdraw sponsorship.

In the lobby group’s memorandum, concerns about transformation and development of poorer clubs were spelt out.

It has demanded wider representation of black people, not just in the provincial team, but also in administrative structures.

It demands a complete restructuring of the rugby union to include more blacks at council and executive levels, a better allocation of funds for development, greater commitment to development and faster transformation.

The task group includes rugby administrators Neville Dube and B Hlela, both of whom sit on the KZNRU’s sub-committee for development.

Fellow task group member Martin Wiseman told the Tribune: “The KZNRU is institutionally racist. They are racist not by what they say, but by their actions. They have always been suspicious of black people, but because it is unconstitutional to openly be racist they are careful.

“But under-resourcing blacks, undermining them and shoving them away in small offices is racist and it’s a kind of racism that is even more dangerous than telling a black person straight to the face that I don’t like you.”

Wiseman said many of the problems were at grassroots level. While the Sharks had four or five black players, they had been brought in from elsewhere to “make up numbers”.

“Transformation in rugby in this province is so bad that I think we’ve actually regressed. When we assessed the situation at the beginning of the year it was like nostalgia, because there were matters being tabled that were the same as those we were trying to deal with 10 years ago.

“There are people who believe that transformation is only about how many black players are on the field at any given time. We will never be able to succeed in transforming rugby if clubs in the townships and in outer-lying areas don’t even have a field.

“The situation is worse in KZN than in any other province in the country.”

Wiseman said his group wanted a “complete overhaul” of KZN rugby structures.

“The constitution needs to be rewritten to reflect the 50/50 representation that was agreed upon in the past and to give smaller clubs a voice.”

He said there was a lot of money put aside for development, but there was a lack of transparency on spending.

“Nobody knows where the money is going. And that is reflective of operational problems within the union.”

He said whites “don’t want to touch transformation”.

“Their feeling is: let’s under-resource the blacks so that they fail. Development officers who are tasked with developing rugby in the rural areas don’t even have transport to get there. How do you expect things to change if problems like those are allowed to continue to exist? - Sunday Tribune