Mixing sports and politics will always leave a sour taste in the mouth of spectators, regardless of nationality. In a perfect world the two would never collide, but as we all know the world we live in is far from that.
Passionate Springbok supporter, Jared Wright, sheds some light one of the most hotly debated topics within the game of rugby that currently plagues his beloved country of South Africa. While this particular is one that Jared finds far from enjoyable, he outlines the importance of the quota system and shares his views on the topic. A vital piece of information to those wishing to understand the somewhat alien structure that lies beneath the Springboks.
Every time a Springbok squad or any South African sports team is announced, one topic to arise without fail is that of ‘transformation’. For those of you that are not sure what I mean by transformation, it is the goals set by the Government of the Republic of South Africa regarding the racial representation of sports teams.
Now, most people will sit back and ask "why is this needed? The team should be selected on merit!" and so on. But whether you agree with the policy or not, there is a valid reason for its existence.
After the abolishment of Apartheid in 1994, a number of policies have been put into place to ‘correct the wrongs of past’. One of those policies is that in which the government calls 'transformation targets' in sports, which involves the quota system.
The point of the system is to ensure that the country’s sports teams are accurately represented through its racial diversity.
Now, why is this needed in rugby in particular? Well in a census in 2011, the country was divided into five main racial groups Black, White, Coloured, Asian and other/unspecified. The first three of those categories are the main contributors to South Africa’s rugby playing population. The census concluded that 76.4% of the population is black with White at 9.1% and Coloured 8.9%.
However, in the latest 36-man Springbok squad named to tour Europe, just 12 of those players are coloured or black. The current target for the Springbok squad is to have 50% of the playing squad for the World Cup in Japan to be players of colour.
What happens if they fail to achieve the targets set out for them? They stand to lose millions in government funding; something that South African Rugby relies upon heavily. This also goes for all sporting federations in the Republic.
So why does South Africa fail to reach these targets on a regular basis? Like most issues within in rugby, the problem lies at grassroots. South Africa has some of the best, if not the best, rugby schools in the world. However, some of the biggest schools in the country are traditionally Afrikaans and have majority white males attending the school. Some of these schools have not hit the transformation targets that the provincial and national teams are required to fulfil.
The majority of the Springboks you see donning the jersey have attended some of the biggest rugby schools in the country with Grey College and Paul Roos Gymnasium producing the most. The problem is that the professional teams are required to hit the targets while their main feeders, the schools, are not doing so.
Another issue is that rugby is still viewed by many as the ‘white man’s sport’ and that fact that football (soccer) is the number one sport in the country.
Considering all of the above information, you can understand why the system is in place. However, as a proud South African, I believe the system should not apply at Test level but remain in place at grassroots, with the focus on improving the quality of some of the more underprivileged schools and getting more of the talented youngsters in top schools.
The quota system can leave a sour taste in your mouth, especially when players who have earned their place in the Springbok squad are quickly labelled as ‘quota selections’ by a selected group of people in the country.
As long as a player of colour is selected for the Springboks squad he is a quota player as he is counted towards fulfilling the requirements set by the government. This to me is a real slap in the face to players like Bryan Habana, Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira, JP Pietersen, Siya Kolisi and the list goes on and on of spectacular players that are far from being selected based on the colour of their skin.
Now can Rassie Erasmus select squad to go to the World Cup that has a chance of winning the competition and fulfilling targets? I believe so yes. Here is a potential 23 that is both more than capable of lifting the William Webb Ellis Cup and fulfilling the targets.
16. Bongi Mbonambi, 17. Steven Kitshoff, 18. Trevor Nyakane, 19. Lood de Jager, 20. Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21. Embrose Papier, 22. Elton Jantjies/ Damian Willemse, 23. Cheslin Kolbe