Radical rugby transformation
Poverty at root of inequity in the sport, writes
NEW ZEALAND rugby teams have long regarded games at Newlands as the next best thing to playing on their home ground – and when the All Blacks run on to the field this evening, they will see why some local fans regard Cape Town as “Little New Zealand”.
Kieran Reid and his team will receive a welcome reserved for returning heroes.
During the match, supporters will cheer every All Black manoeuvre and jeer every Springbok mistake. The question is: why? There are three main reasons. Some South African fans support the New Zealanders for playing rugby that is fast, skilful and exciting. A second group supports the All Blacks and teams from other countries because they have never forgotten what so-called international rugby meant to them during the apartheid era.
To them, these “test” matches were played by white supremacists. And for this reason, they hold the Springboks in utter contempt, even though national teams have no longer been all-white for a number of years.
Strangely enough, during the apartheid era, these fans supported visiting teams, even though these visitors were more than happy to play against all-white Springboks.
The third group believes black players and black South Africans were betrayed by the politicians during the run-up to the first democratic elections in 1994. They have been able to back up their views with compelling arguments.
Their premise is that the South African Rugby Union (Saru) can never be a credible agent for the promotion of non-racial sport in this country.
They point out that South players – from schools level right up to club and provincial level – were drawn to the game.
But unity strangled rugby in the townships. Far too little attention was paid to this type of development. Sadly, this is still the case today.
Clubs with histories covering many decades and, in some instances stretching over more than 100 years, became defunct or were forced to amalgamate with other clubs.
Previously white clubs, desperate to prove they were “transforming”, used their financial clout to “buy” some of the best black players.
Financial clout was still retained by white clubs.
Many black administrators and former players believe the Springbok should not have been retained as the national rugby emblem. They argue that it is an apartheid symbol that continues to promote an apartheid mindset among white supporters.
Many white supporters and former white players see black players in representative sides, including the Springboks, as irritating intruders at worst and necessary evils at best.
And yet the government has done nothing to ensure a level playing field for black players.
The consequence of this is that every time the Springboks or other representative sides lose, a chorus of “quota” rings out from the lips and pens of white supporters. If the coach is black, his tactics will invariably be blamed for a team losing.
Where coaches are white, the black players in the team, who they were forced to select are blamed for any defeats.
And yet, until the collapse of apartheid, the white South African Rugby Board employed the biggest quota policy ever: a whites-only team. This must not be forgotten. Rugby in this country has become an elitist sport. A narrow pipeline to traditional white rugby schools has been created to bring in elite groups of black players and to move them through the age groups and eventually into provincial, Super and Springbok teams.
The effect of this, though, is that rugby will remain a predominantly white sport at the highest level.
It is little wonder then that so many black South Africans support teams such as the All Blacks – and that the South African national team seems stuck with a playing style far behind their opponents.
In the days of apartheid, rugby was seen as the vehicle that would get promising white players out of rural districts of South Africa and into glittering sporting and, later, working careers in the big cities.
Generally, this is not true of black players.
In fact, some black Springboks have ended up living in dire circumstances within a short time of their playing careers coming to an end.
What needs to be done is the creation of a level playing field for all players. How can this be achieved? Firstly, for poverty to be properly tackled at a political level. What government is doing to narrow the poverty gap is simply not good enough.
The Springbok symbol should be put out to pasture. It has become so divisive that it serves no useful purpose. It encourages triumphalism and a hankering for the past from those who played and watched the game during the apartheid era.
Also, the records of apartheid Springboks should be purged from official statistics. Records should begin in 1994 – and there should be a commitment from Saru to work out of the box, to work harder and to strive to create proper opportunities for every youngster who is interested in playing the game.
Failure to do this will damn the national team to a state of mediocrity for many years to come.
Oakes is the op-ed editor for Independent Media.