South Africa’s Minister of Sports, Fikile Mbalula, has been unequivocal in his endeavour to ensure that blacks participate in various white-dominated sporting codes. His comments have always courted both controversy and praise in equal measure. And his recent statement about the racial composition of the national rugby side, the Springboks is no exception.
Mbalula decreed that by 2019 half of the Springboks’ squad will have to be players of colour. In addition, 60% of those players will have to be black. This, he explained, is meant to ensure that it reflects the country’s racial demographics.
However, arguably, there is a fat chance that Mbalula’s objective might not be achieved. Zealous to see progress being made, the garrulous Minister might have overlooked two important factors.
Firstly, there is a conspicuous absence of players of colour, in particular black Africans, in the game’s grassroots development structures. This could be due to the lack of interest amongst black children to participate in rugby – majority aspire to be the next Doctor Khumalo rather than Beast Ntawarira – which might have removed the incentives for sustainable corporate sponsorship. Sponsors would like to be assured of a tangible Return On their Investment in the middle to long term, at the very least in the form of graduates of the organisations they sponsor playing top flight rugby.
Secondly, imagine someone in the Obama administration telling the National Basketball Association (NBA) to ensure that the national team for the 2016 Olympics will have to include 70% white Americans to reflect the country’s racial statistics? Basketball is a game in which African American youth seem to have huge interest in and it is not accidental that African Americans have continued to produce top basketball players since the era of Michael Jordan. Undoubtedly, African Americans do not qualify to play in the NBA professional league on the account of their skin colour but pure talent, and the majority of whom are from underprivileged backgrounds.
On the whole, the Minister of Sports should be wary of the transformation path towards which he would like to steer the country’s rugby. The Springboks are one of the country’s world class sporting brands while other sporting codes have become a national embarrassment (Bafana Bafana). Thus, sacrificing such a successful institution for political expediency would only lower its performance. Why fix something that is not broken?