DURBAN – The single most controversial word in South African sport is transformation. It pricks at the conscience, just as readily it stokes the flames of injustice.
It is as much a part of our sporting landscape as wors rolls, Oom in the stands and the gees.
Inevitably, when that word pops up, there are those who wonder how long it will take before it is not part of the conversation, when merit is the only criteria.
It’s a serious question. At what point do you draw a line, and reckon that enough has been done, and everyone is on their own.
The general consensus is not yet. Not nearly yet. This week, in Dobsonville, Standard Bank became the latest corporate to throw their weight behind development, committing to grooming young talent, when they need the most assistance.
They joined the likes of Momentum, KFC, Audi and Sunfoil, in putting their considerable buck where their marketing mouths have been for years.
Transformation has never been about quotas at Under-19 and beyond level. The horse has often bolted by then.
True transformation is felt much earlier, especially in cricket. When families have to choose between supper for everyone else or providing bus fare for a budding talent to get to a compulsory practice, that is when the black talent drain begins.
So, when you see proper pitches and nets planted in townships and unfashionable suburbs, bringing access to the game closer than ever, that has to be a step in the right direction.
For a long time, corporate South Africa misunderstood what their role in transformation should be. Of course, they had to be involved. They had to be seen to be playing some sort of role in awakening the sleeping beast in the ‘hood’.
Often, the role they played was lip service, a thousand free T-shirts and water bottles at the gate, and a lucky draw for one family to come back next week for free.
It was well-meaning, but patronising, and did precious little to actually mobilise the talent that has slipped through so many sporting bodies’ hands.
There have been many empty promises made in the past, too.
Go and ask Makhaya Ntini about the high-profile brands that promised him all manner of assistance for the construction of his academy, but slipped away once the cameras had been switched off.
Now, however, there seems to be infinitely better cohesion. The cricket hubs that have mushroomed all around the land have changed he game, and are making a tangible differences on young cricketing lives.
In team sports, cricket has led the race in that sense, and the results are starting to pop up in the lower age-groups.
The goal, of course, is to turn those provincial junior caps into future professional players, who have a fighting chance at representing their country.
That is transformation; literally changing a young boy’s stars, and putting him on a path that transforms not just his life, but those of the people that matter most to him.
It’s taken over two decades for the proper structures to be put in place, but African time is better than never.
Commend those corporates who have rolled up their sleeves, and committed to doing their bit and then some for cricket which, besides golf, is the most financially challenging sport to commit to.
It is those initiatives – and commitment to them – that will ensure that transformation evolves from being a source of division to being one of unity, pride and purpose.
You’d like to hope that other sporting codes are paying attention.