Affirmative selection?

In professional sport, picking the best or the most talented players is a prerequisite for success. It is a simple and straightforward notion unless there are external factors that aim to complicate this practice.

The issue of transformation in South Africa is once again a hot topic of debate after the South African Rugby Union (SARU) announced a new ‘quota system’ that would take effect in next year’s Vodacom Cup. Each team will have to be represented by seven players of colour.

Rugby is still considered to be a ‘white’ sport in the country even after twenty years of democracy. This new process of transforming rugby aims to make both provincial and the national teams more representative of the demographics of the country.

The Vodacom Cup is a precursor tournament to the Currie Cup and Super Rugby. The tournament showcases the young talent the country has to offer and SARU probably has the view that by including the ‘quota system’ in this tournament, senior teams would have a much bigger pool of black players to choose from. This will increase the number of black players in future Springbok teams.

This process might be advantageous as it may give young black players an opportunity to progress to the top rugby teams.

There is one drawback as our clubs, schools and universities are not producing enough talented black players. Including average players of colour just to meet the demand for the quota could have a disastrous effect on South African Rugby in the long run.

It would mean coaches would have to choose the black player over the white player in certain circumstances, even if the white player has a more promising future in South African rugby.

As there are already a limited number of talented black players in our top schools and universities, it will be hard for Vodacom Cup coaches to fill their teams with quality.

A selection process like this one has no place in professional sport and South Africa should not be an exception just because of our segregated past. Selection in sport should be based on merit, regardless of race or even religion. SARU should find alternative ways of making the Springbok team more ‘black’. They will need to make the game more popular in black communities and this will be hard as football (soccer) is still the number one sport in the country.

Once they can achieve this then they can focus on developing young black players, particularly at schools. This will create a larger pool for provincial unions to choose from and with their skills developed, selection headaches will be a thing of the past and South African rugby will have a sense of equality about it.

There is a bright future for black rugby players in this country but it is up to SARU to lay the necessary foundations to ensure that forced selections are temporary.

Warren Fortune

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