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Let's just embrace transformation

Chief Sports writer Kevin McCallum looks at the thorny issue of transformation, the Springboks and Saru. REUTERS/Rogan Ward

Chief Sports writer Kevin McCallum looks at the thorny issue of transformation, the Springboks and Saru. REUTERS/Rogan Ward

Published Aug 31, 2015


Peter de Villiers has spoken. Springbok rugby is in the gutter. It is a national shame and an insult to black intelligence. It wasn’t like this is in his day. Heyneke Meyer should be put up against the wall.

But yesterday, in an Afrikaans Sunday newspaper, De Villiers told South Africans they should stop fighting about the make-up of the team and support the Springboks at the World Cup. Meyer, he said, has chosen a good group and his right to choose his team should never be taken away from him. South Africans should wait to see what results this team produces at the World Cup and then criticise him, if it is necessary.

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De Villiers conveniently forgets how, in his autobiography, he bemoaned that former coaches, who were aware of the pressures and problems of being a Bok coach, put the boot into him. It’s a large step from the gutter to supporter, but a short one back to the gutter again.

The 2015 Rugby World Cup will be a strange time for South Africans. Do they support a team that has a chance of winning the World Cup, ignore them or cheer on the opposition? Activist groups whose manifesto is to stop racism in rugby have been given almost as many column inches as the announcement of the Bok team. Saru and the sports minister are being taken to court by one of these groups in an attempt to take away their passports a la Butana Komphela in 2007.

Former colleague and old friend, Mondli Makhanya, wrote yesterday in the City Press of how he will not be supporting the Springboks. He has ridden the full ambit of emotions with the national rugby team, booing them in 1995, supporting them in 2007 and then a “full convert” in 2011.

Mondli’s piece is illustrated by a copy of a list posted on social media last week in which a comparison was made between black Africans who played for the Proteas and Springboks, and whites (white Africans?) who played for Bafana. More white Africans have played for Bafana than the other two teams combined. It makes nonsense of the argument for white quotas for Bafana if there are for rugby and cricket. The lists do not include coloured Africans or Indian Africans, which may cause some consternation in those communities and does them an injustice. Their path to national teams deserves no less praise because they are not in the majority of the population.

Vata Ngobeni of the Pretoria News posted the list on Facebook with the words, “I’ll just leave this here.” All hell broke loose, as it does on social media, the divisions of the old roaring through. Merit selections fought against the lack of transformation. Black African against white African. My contribution to the debate was: “Here’s the thing – white people need to stop seeing transformation as a punishment. And transformation has no end point. There is no time when it stops. Transformation is an ongoing change. There is no saturation point. Live with it. Embrace it. Make it work. And if you are white and the best in the world, you will play for your country.”

Colleague Ken Borland suggested I wasn’t quite right: “Actually there is an end point Kevin, as (rugby writer) Johan Coetzee put it – When a player from Mdantsane has the same chance of succeeding as a player from Waterkloof.”

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Many white Africans won’t end up playing for South Africa. They may end up heading north or east to Europe or Australia. Japan needs players, too.

South African rugby and cricket players are perhaps the nation’s biggest sporting export. The numbers will increase as transformation is embraced and, as needs have shown, enforced.

Transformation is about creating opportunity and removing obstacles. In rugby it’s about the disconnect between schools and clubs, and provincial teams and then Super Rugby. Fix the pipeline, rid it of those who take the pre-1994 option. Continue to ask coaches why a black player hasn’t been picked. If the answer is that there is a lack of depth, then interrogate that.

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When he was still Bok coach, De Villiers was called in by Saru for his annual performance assessment, which was reported in Rapport thus: “The newspaper reports that De Villiers was warned that he might have placed too much of a focus on transformation and that this aspect could in future count against him.

“Players of colour who had been selected but whose form was not up to standard were apparently brought to his attention.”

Saru, it seems, have obstacles and gutters of their own making.

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