“Look around you. Everything changes. Everything on this earth is in a continuous state of evolving, refining, improving, adapting, enhancing changing. You were not put on this earth to remain stagnant,” a behavioural scientist once said.
It would surprise you then, that there remains a core of individuals in this country that are adverse to change, especially in the sphere of rugby.
I refer here especially to a recent comment piece published in The Star that questioned why the Lions have seemingly ignored the necessity, specifically at Super Rugby level, to select more players of colour to aid in change.
Aggrieved, supporters of the union seethed on social media upon its publication that a merit-based team selection policy was key for the Lions to be successful and that a quota of black players would devalue the side.
Now, as a die-hard supporter of the Lions, it was rather embarrassing to read the outrage and at often racist rhetoric used by the all-white thread.
Several individuals ignored the argument, while others offered this golden gem of an excuse, and I quote: “Stay away from our rugby players. Transform the soccer team. They have more than 50 percent black players;” and “Do we claim transformation for the soccer team? They have their soccer and we have our rugby;” while another bit back: “Then there should be 50 percent white soccer teams, too. That’s just fair”
I find the rationalisation behind this thought-process especially grating. Perhaps it is because, for a considerable time, it was my fall back defence whenever the transformation debate came up, much to my own shame.
I understand now that it was a prejudiced view, one that required debate, understanding and a reeducation to dismantle.
The argument is erroneous and disingenuous at best and is made from a pillar of privilege that looks down unto a fantastically warped phantasm of everyday life.
Sure, the majority of professional football players in the country that flash on our TV screens are black but to argue that the development of soccer and the development of rugby are one and the same, speaks of an apathetic detachment from reality.
For one, it ignores the demographical fact of the country where the white population makes up just over eight percent of the 56 million people living here.
That statistic alone makes the implementation of such a quota already unjustifiable and unrealistic.
The truth is that before and during the apartheid regime, white political forces built in division within the game to the exclusion of non-whites. The National Party refined those ideals, using rugby as their own nation-building device to instil and flame Afrikaner nationalism. They implemented structures to divide South Africa, claiming the sport of rugby as their own.
To be sure, they did that in football, too.
They actively demeaned soccer, which they considered a black sport only, driving a wedge between ‘us and them’ - a classic divide and conquer stratagem that still exists today.
Rugby, they agreed, was the personalty of the white intellectual, not the uneducated black masses.
Their education system made rugby a priority in former Model C schools to the detriment of their Bantu school equivalent.
Rugby was a tool of separation, wherein a small pockets of non-white resistance battled for legitimacy within the sport. Every facet of rugby was rigged to ensure only one race succeeded within it.
Twenty years into a democratic South Africa, and we as a society are still grappling with ways to break down this wall. Transformation of rugby has been slow and it is reaching a point where it must change or face a decline into obscurity.
Meanwhile, the accessibility of soccer in white middle-class communities, so long a fort of rugby that is well structured and expertly managed, remains muted at best, hampering headway into those enclaves, as former Bafana Bafana mentor Clive Barker once pointed out.
To transform sport does not mean to devalue it but rather to correct the injustices of the past that excluded the majority due to race. It is to ensure that we are united as one nation, rooting for teams that are racially of consequence. It is about growing the sport and strengthening its foundation so that there are more options and would-be legends waiting in the wings.
Sport, by definition, is about inclusion, not exclusion.