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Thread: Springboks facing black dawn

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    Springboks facing black dawn

    Quite a well balanced article from beyond the country's borders I reckon.

    Springboks facing black dawn

    By Bret Harris
    June 16, 2007


    SHORT-term pain equals long-term gain for South Africa. So said a NSW Rugby Union delegate after an unsuccessful motion to cancel the 1971 Springboks tour of Australia at the height of apartheid.

    Almost 40 years after that controversial Springboks tour that saw protesters march on the streets of Sydney and led to a state of emergency in Queensland, the issue of race in rugby union is still a divisive topic in South Africa.

    The question is no longer whether blacks and coloureds should be allowed to play for the Springboks, but how many should be in the Test team.

    South Africa's chairperson on the committee of sport, Butana Komphela, has threatened to pull the Springboks out of this year's World Cup in France if the team does not have enough black players.

    Since the end of apartheid in the early 1990s, South Africa has adopted a policy of "transformation", or positive discrimination, covering every aspect of life. Slowly that has come to include the Springboks, a team traditionally dominated by South Africa's white Afrikaaner population.

    Over the past few years an unofficial quota system has been phased in that deems at least three players of colour be chosen in the Springboks' starting XV for every Test. Further, there is a preference for at least one black player to selected.

    The colour quota has created a rift within the Springboks' set-up. Coach Jake White has managed to turn a disastrous South Africa team into the world's hottest side. And he has done so using South Africa's tried and true methods: a big, aggressive, forward pack creating space for a big, aggressive, set of backs.

    Last weekend it emerged there is a push to raise the colour quota from three to 10 players, with White to be replaced by black coach Peter de Villiers after the World Cup.

    The plan has created chaos in South Africa and threatens to derail the team's World Cup chances as the white establishment fears for its future. In the long-term, the incorporation of black talent into South African rugby has the potential to revolutionise the game and return the Springboks to the top of the world.

    Former Wallabies wing Jim Boyce, who toured South Africa in 1963, is sympathetic to the cause of black players in the republic.

    Boyce was one of seven Wallabies who protested against the 1971 Springboks tour of Australia because the South African team was chosen on the basis of colour.

    But Boyce is not convinced affirmative action is the answer to the racial issues in South African rugby.

    "Politics and sport will always be mixed," Boyce said. "There is certainly a keeness for the Government, which is predominantly black, to see that rugby heroes are drawn from the black population. But that's easier said than done, really."

    Boyce said the Springboks needed to field their best team, although he would favour black players in 50-50 selections.

    "One would want to encourage black players, but in the end you have to have the best side," Boyce said. "Obviously, where they are equal you would try to favour a black player to come through.

    "I think it is important that there are black heroes in rugby. The South African Rugby Union, I would imagine, would want to see black heroes and black referees, black coaches also. A full representation of the population in the rugby side.

    "But the Government should be aware of the difficulties of trying to bring black players through to international level.

    "It's an issue that everyone in South Africa has to deal with one way or another."

    Lloyd McDermott, the first Aborigine to play for the Wallabies, is no stranger to the issue of race in sport.

    McDermott, who played on the wing for Australia against the All Blacks in 1962, describes himself as a "guarded supporter" of transformation in South African rugby.

    "You have to look at the history of the matter," McDermott said. "The Springboks have always been the champions of rugby.

    "They are steeped in the history of the Afrikaaner game. They were world champions before they were excommunicated because of apartheid. They were the strongest rugby nation in the world, excluding the blacks. Now they've got the Rainbow Nation they have to give black players an opportunity, which has been denied them.

    "They are playing catch-up rugby. They haven't had the facilities or the coaches to develop. They had nothing. You can't put someone in who is going to mess up. That's the problem. You've got to avoid that.

    "I'm guardedly a supporter, but it has to be fine-tuned. If they are not up to it, it can do more damage to black athletes."

    Whether you agree with transformation or not, the frustration at the slow pace of change in South African rugby is understandable.

    A glance at South Africa's World Cup teams is indicative of a lack of black representation in the Springboks' first XV.

    Chester Williams played on the wing in South Africa's World Cup-winning team of 1995 and later said he felt like a token selection. Breyton Paulse was on the wing in the 1999 World Cup campaign. Another winger, Ashwin Willemse, was in the top side in 2003. In France this year, the Springboks will most likely have two black/coloured wingers, Bryan Habana and either JP Pietersen, Odwa Ndungane or Willemse.

    Unlike the descendants of west Africans who dominate American sport, southern Africans are generally small, which explains why they are mainly chosen on the wing.

    It is understandable that small athletes are not chosen in a rugby team's tight-five, but it is intriguing that there has never been a black Springbok five-eighth.

    "I have a feeling the coaches in South Africa, who are drawn from the apartheid era as players, are a little bit unreconstructed," Boyce said.

    "The style of play is a traditional South African white style of play. It tends to favour the physical type of white South African. It hasn't incorporated the brilliance that is often found in black players.

    "There was a tremendous reluctance - you could say it was racism and it probably was - to play black players at quarterback in American football. I've even heard in New Zealand, 'don't play Maoris at five-eighth'. It's so silly. It's been proved wrong again and again and again.

    "I'd love to see black players playing five-eighth and inside positions yet they tend to be selected on the wing.

    "If you got a South African version of Mark Ella at five-eighth; if suddenly you got this incredible inventiveness ..."

    While rugby is a quasi-religion in white South Africa, soccer has traditionally been the game played by blacks.

    South Africa will host the 2010 Football World Cup, which will be a major fillip to the code in the republic.

    "If I was a black guy in South Africa, that's quite an attraction," Boyce said. "There are only a few black heroes in rugby, but there are a lot of black heroes in soccer. Benni McCarthy plays in the English Premier League, for instance.

    "A black guy growing up. Which sport does he play? Gee, there's a huge attraction to play soccer. You tend to follow your heroes.

    "Certainly, black heroes will play rugby, but it takes a long time to come through. You look at the websites of the various clubs and there aren't that many black faces.

    "I can't think of too many black coaches in South Africa at all. These are the type of things, when black people are fully integrated into rugby, that will happen. It takes a very long time for it to happen."

    Ironically, the most controversial selection in the Springboks this year was a white player, Luke Watson.

    Jake White has always overlooked Watson, claiming he is too small to play on the flank of the Springboks scrum. However, the SARFU has overridden the coach and added Watson to the squad.

    Watson is the son of Cheeky Watson, an icon of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, who famously turned down a Springboks jersey as a form of protest.

    Luke Watson, who has strong opinions on black rights, is seen as a child of the struggle and there is talk of him becoming Springboks captain post-World Cup and leading a South African team that is coached by a black man and includes no fewer than 10 black players.

    "That strikes me as somewhat heavy-handed," Boyce said. "There should be a natural progression if possible."

    Whether the end is achieved by revolution or evolution, the future of South African rugby is potentially mind-boggling if the Springboks can ever bring together the best of their white and black players.

    South Africa has hardly scratched the surface in the development of black players, which is a largely untapped reservoir of 40million people.

    Imagine a South African team made up of white forwards and black backs with a Springbok Mark Ella calling the shots.

    "It's a huge population," Boyce said. "You are drawing on a population which is twice the size of Australia's. They could be an incredible team.

    "They are a very good team now but the potential is endless."

    As that NSWRU delegate said in such colourful language in 1971, South Africa was hard enough to beat without black players. Just think how good the Springboks will be when the team is fully representative.

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    Champion Contributor chook's Avatar
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    An interesting read. Thanks for posting that Burgs. Its hard to comprehend that the Bok team might be pulled from the RWC. They would be laughingstock albeit for a demanding issue.

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    Me thinks a political furor being created while a world stage opportunity is available. I'm not trying to belittle the issue but it is very much an internal political issue that we can do nothing about. The path is chosen so they have to sort it out for themselves. The Boks will be at the RWC..no question.

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    Excellent nuetral article, with a lot of interesting unbiased points...South african rugby would do well to have a read...

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    Stofile slaps `ban` on quotas

    Wednesday 07th November 2007

    South Africa's sports minister, Makhenkesi Stofile, has ruled out racial quotas for national teams, after the mainly white Springboks' recent victory in the Rugby World Cup reignited the debate over transformation.

    "Quotas are out," Stofile told a parliamentary sports committee.

    "Let us put our resources into the development of talent."

    The presence of only two coloured players in the World Cup-winning Bok team's starting line-up has led to a new bout of soul-searching about how to ensure the progress of more black players.

    Politicians, including President Thabo Mbeki, have reiterated the need for true racial transformation in a country with an 80 percent black population.

    But Stofile said quotas were not the answer, as a failed experiment in South African rugby showed a few years ago.

    "Quotas were used only for window dressing for international consumption," he said.

    "Those who have the money go and buy the players ... instead of developing the boys where they are."

    Stofile said black children, mostly poor, needed proper nutrition and facilities to help them develop the bone structure and muscle tone required for sports participation from an early age.

    "We must kill the myth that ... black people cannot play certain sporting codes because they are black," the minister told MPs.

    "Let us put our resources into the development of talent."

    About ZAR200-million (US$30-million; 21-million) would be needed for this purpose annually, said Stofile, who argued for the creation of a national developmental rugby squad.

    "We (the government) are not going to decide who must be on the team. All we are saying is: expose everybody, give them an opportunity."

    (Sapa-AFP)

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    Champion Contributor Jehna's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Burgs View Post
    But Boyce is not convinced affirmative action is the answer to the racial issues in South African rugby.
    I couldn't agree more with Boyce on this point. The concept of affirmative action frustrates me to no end. I completely sympathise that apartheid was a terrible time in South African history, and tolerance of racism at any level is simply not acceptable in any society in today's world. However, it would seem that in our efforts to combat the terrible wrongs committed against the black population, and to counter the long lasting effects it has had, a policy of what can in fact be deemed as 'positive' racism, is being enforced.

    Favouring black players over white players does little to quell racial intolerance. In fact, in my opinion, all it does is exacerbate the problem as it further encourages racism but just in another form. We're trying so hard to promote the black population in rugby and prove that we've moved beyond the antiquated ideas held during apartheid, but this has not achieved equality in any sense of the word, all it has done is disproportionately focus attention on blacks - hence the idea of positive racism - as blacks are being singled out again, but in a somewhat 'better' way this time around.

    Politics and sport should not be mixed. Sport is not a forum for political agendas...or at least it shouldn't be. It is in fact an area in which true equality can be realised as individuals are judged on their talent, their abilities, their dedication, their physical prowess, their mental toughness...all those elements which make a good rugby player but which have little to do with the colour of ones skin. The governments' action here completely counters this possibility. I understand their reasoning, but I think its backfiring. In fact, I think all it is doing is creating more animosity towards the black population. I can't see a white rugby player of exceptional talent accepting the fact he was overlooked for selection because he was white and not black, and nor do I think he should have to. Isn't this racism as well? A white man cannot help the colour of his skin, in the same manner that a black man can't help the colour of his. But who's going to think like this if you're on the negative end of the policy?

    Alternatively, I'm not convinced that if I was a black rugby player in South Africa I'd be all that impressed knowing I was selected on the grounds that I was black. I'm sure for some that wouldn't be an issue. But I'd like to think for most, they'd prefer to be selected on their merits, and be fully able to enjoy the honour of that selection. They talk about 'black' heroes in rugby, but who is going to idolise someone who's defining quality is the colour of their skin? Any black guy who can throw a ball around and barrel someone to the ground could be that 'hero' and as far as I'm concerned such commonality removes the quality which defines a true hero.

    Like Boyce said, the Springboks need to field their best team - if that includes a team where 60% are black, 10% are white, and 30% are purple...yay for them. I frankly don't care as long as their selected on the grounds of their ability to play rugby.

    Racism is a controversial and delicate issue. I don't deny its significance and I am by no means trying to belittle it through this argument. I just think it is time to reassess firstly where the issue is addressed, and secondly, how that issue is being addressed.


    Just my two cents worth...

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    I've never lived in South Africa, and my historical knowledge of the country is poor to say the least. I know many here may not agree with me, but in a case where past inbalances need to be addressed, I think affirmative action is a valid intermediary step.

    If teams are required to have a quota of black/coloured players, then the union is forced to plow money into these previously neglected groups so that teams will have a pool of talent to draw from.

    However, in order not to radically impact the sport it needs to be incrementally implemented.

    We saw 2 (I think) coloured players in the Springboks this year. That can be the baseline, then increase it by one every year or two until the goals are met. If the union look to the future they will know they need to keep developing coloured/black players into the future so they can field a worthy team.

    If the union are proactive in specifically addressing development of black/coloured players and are held publicly accountable - I think they should be allowed a window of time to self regulate without enforced quotas knowing that if they don't pull their weight a quota system will be introduced.

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    Good first article by Bret. I've offered my thoughts on this issue on another thread where I played devil's advocate only to offer a different perspective by suggesting reasons in support of the quota system. Having said that, I'm in favour of increased funding to projects that encourage black participation and believe selection should be based on merit.

    The second article highlights the fickle relationship between sport and politics. One minute the ultimatum is quotas and the next, its all about encouraging not forcing participation. We'd all like to see politics kept out of sports unfortunately in places like Africa, sports and politics are not mutually exclusive..unless you are a small insignificant sport.

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    I guess the question has to be asked of the SA Parliment, in the year 2050 do they want the Springboks to reflect the make up of the nation*, the make up of those playing the sport or to win matches with the best possible XV to grow (further) prestige amongst the black and coloured communities?
    All three options have different priorities to achieve that outcome.

    *Black African 79%, white 9.6%, colored 8.9%, Indian/Asian 2.5% (2001 census)

    Rainbow Nation Springbok XV 2050:
    Black African 17,
    White 2, (I'm tipping the two Locks!)
    Colored 2,
    Indian/Asian 1

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    I'm with Jenha on this. Your average South African White Racist (That's not meant to denigrate white South Africans,I'm talking specifically about the segment of population that is Actually racist) will not be altruistic in his interpretation of Affirmative action, as a mater of fact,this will be seen as an AFFIRMATION of the black man's inferiority, since they need the rules to be changed to make the grade. This is of course utter crap, since the black community does not have access to the incentives that the white community has (with regards to rugby in this case). Furthermore, although many black players will see the addition of a quota as a legitimate opportunity to showcase their skills, those skills will not be appreciated until they make their place in the team without the entry standard being lowered. I personally believe it would be a tragedy for Bryan Habana to be put in the position where some boofhead can suggest that he is only in the team because of his colour!

    Team quotas should NOT be stated or enforced, but they can be used as indicators of the success of programs which intend to improve accessibility to the black community. The SARU should target funding to programs UNTIL they get a national team with 10 starting players who are black (or whatever percentage they feel to better represent their country)
    I guess that's exactly what Stofile was saying.

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    I hope this issue is resolved on the best team on the the park week in and week out, regardless of colour, otherwise it will get ugly. My biggest worry is, even though it is sounding more promising with more a sensible approach from both sides, Mbeki is a ejiot who still supports Mugabe and believes Aids is a curable disease with a couple of tablets. If he gets his nose into rugby......look out and that wil not go down to well with the Afrikkaner crew.

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    I guess my problem with this is that racism in South Africa is not exclusive to rugby. There are huge inequalities that need to be addressed in society but I can't see how introducing quotas into the game of rugby will actually achieve this. To confront racism we do need to address the socio-economic imbalance in every day living, but for this to have the desired impact, we need a corresponding change in attitude in Sth African society. In my opinion the proposal by the government to push a colour quota in rugby may provide more opportunities for blacks, but it doesn't actually address the socio-economic problems they face, nor does it help change the racist attitude of many South Africans. Therefore, I'd argue its counterintuitive. In fact, all it does is make the game of rugby less enjoyable as we're not able to watch the best players strut their stuff.

    I still don't believe rugby is the forum for the issue of racism to be tackled in. In fact I think by mixing sport and politics, we belittle the issue of racism, which is a pretty dangerous thing to do. Unfortunately, it would seem the South African government disagree.

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    I would hope Jen that tackling the issue of racial disadvantage in sport is only a part of a well-rounded policy of addressing racial disadvantage in all of society.

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    SA Gov + "a well-rounded policy" would be a contradiction in terms wouldn't it

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    Hmmmmm Yeah, I see your point, Maybe I was feeling a little too Utopian!

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