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Tokenism is an insult to everyone - Tutu

Published Feb 22, 2005


By Peter Bills

Improving facilities for deprived communities is a better way forward for sport than transformation, argues Desmond Tutu.

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Tutu fiercely criticised the present arrangement in an interview at the weekend, saying: "I don't want tokenism - it's an insult to everybody. And there are so many occasions when it seems that black players are there in order to satisfy the demands for transformation. That is not good for the morale of the individual or the team."

"People talk of two or three black players in a team, but what is the difference between two, three, five or six? If they are good enough, they should be there, of course."

I don't like our guys carrying this additional baggage. It is too much of a burden.

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"Frankly, I am surprised they play so well. I am surprised when you know they are there and being looked at, not just as players. When are people just going to say 'This is a player' and that is all?"

Tutu left little doubt that simply selecting black players for a cosmetic balancing act was as unappealing to him as to anyone else.

His words will intensify and enhance the debate on this thorny issue. This summer, cricket selectors appear to have chosen certain players to provide a balance. In certain cases, a player has looked palpably short of Test stature.

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But if transformation were to be dropped, would people accept that it might take some years to bring through greater numbers of the black community?

Tutu thinks they would. "If you prove you are committed to seeing transformation happen, people will be ready to be patient."

"I would have thought that a clear indication of just where we are going would have been beneficial. Someone should say: 'Look, we are not going to be able to get there tomorrow, but it may be the day after tomorrow.' In reality, we may be talking about 10 years' time."

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What will facilitate that scenario, of course, are better facilities for the entire sporting community. But that is another area in which Tutu also believes present efforts are inferior and insufficient.

He highlighted players like Breyton Paulse, Ashwin Willemse, Gcobani Bobo and Bryan Habana and said: "There are very many like them walking the dusty streets of the townships. The question is, are we doing enough for these people? The answer is a resounding 'No, we are not'. They (the sporting authorities) don't seem to have a very clear policy. If people are given the opportunity, they amaze you."

But Tutu counsels against excessive optimism at the emergence of a few individually talented players from deprived communities.

"I doubt that we are going to see dramatic changes until the sport at the lower levels is developed sufficiently. We still do not have enough or adequate facilities in what are still the black townships."

"Until you really get down to ensuring ... such facilities are created ... at lower levels like schools and clubs, you won't be able to develop the talent that is there. We really have to get stuck in to trying to invest more in improving facilities and coaching at the lower levels. That is where these guys come up from."

But problems at the top of sports such as rugby were hindering the development of that process, he warned, citing the recent disagreements between rugby supremo Brian van Rooyen and what he called "one or two vice-presidents".

The delicate issue of the Springbok emblem was also touched upon by the archbishop emeritus. He alluded to what he called "the continuing amount of feeling" about the Springbok emblem. "They thought that its retention would be a good thing because they didn't want to rub people's noses in the dust. But there is still a lot of feeling about that emblem."

"My view is that we are bringing a lot of baggage with us, and if we could manage to jettison some of that, it would be better. But that can only be done if there is some transparency and people feel you are all being taken on board."

Tutu bemoaned the loss of Morné du Plessis to the whole process of integration, admitting he was sad that the former Springbok was no longer involved.

"I would have thought that if we had had a few more years of Morné du Plessis ... it would have been better. He had a way that made people feel he was committed without being flamboyant and extravagant."

"One of the things people like Morné did do was to get people on their side by doing imaginative things like getting the players to be able to sing the national anthem. That was a stroke of genius."

Tutu admitted that he took enormous delight in seeing the genuine warmth between Springbok rugby players of all backgrounds.

He praised the role of Bok coach Jake White in turning things around when they were "at rock bottom."

But he added: "I am most thrilled when I look at how the players on the field respond to someone having scored a try, how they congratulate him. The spectacle of Breyton Paulse being hugged and surrounded mainly by the white players is a wonderful fillip."

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