CAPE TOWN – The Southern Kings’ new sponsorship and proposed new owners will mean not only a new dawn for the Eastern Province team itself, but it will also bring about the kind of change that South African rugby desperately needs.
On Monday, a press release issued by the franchise announced that Isuzu Motors SA would be partnering with a consortium of predominantly black business people to sponsor them for a three-year period.
This will see the Kings become the first black-owned rugby franchise in SA history. And that one sentence alone should do enough to relay the importance of the milestone - a significant development in SA rugby that can perhaps be beaten only by Siya Kolisi’s appointment as Springbok captain.
In the release issued earlier this week, Loyiso Dotwana - a well-known businessman who spoke on behalf of the consortium - said: “We want to build a professional and competitive team for the long run. Our long-term ambition is to achieve incremental growth which ultimately will result in the Isuzu Southern Kings winning the PRO14 Championship.
By creating an academy and team here, we want to retain the Eastern Cape’s talent.
“This is the home of black rugby - our team will promote social cohesion in SA rugby,” he added.
The release also explained that binding offers have been submitted to the relevant parties, with SA Rugby Executive Council approval and other transaction closing conditions set to take place over the coming weeks.
The move is obviously a tremendous step forward for the Kings, who endured a torrid PRO14 stint in their first season, and it should certainly do them good in terms of player retention, which should ultimately result in a bigger selection pool and improved general preparation to name a few. But the fact that we are able to easily - on half of one hand - single out milestones pertaining to black development in rugby in 2018 is shocking.
And it’s about time that we have more than a Kolisi-reference and the recent transformed or “inclusive” Bok line-ups to grab onto when the chat shifts to black representation in the sport. It goes further than that.
Sure, despite the Kings’ development, SA rugby will still be run mostly by white men.
Black coaches at Super Rugby level will still be an extremely concerning, next to non-existent sight.
We will still have to deal with the white equals merit, black equals quota notions. Black people in rugby will still feel an almost natural inclination to have to do more, know more and produce more to be able to even be considered on the same level as their white counterparts.
The Kings’ achievement won’t magically solve all of SA’s rugby issues.
But it’s a start - whether that start is evident with the Kings themselves or even just Eastern Cape rugby at lower levels. And could that start have happened in a better place than the cradle of black rugby?
So, here’s to SA’s first black-owned franchise. Here’s to much-needed change.
It’s about time.