Cricket South Africa is determined to avoid the looming transformation crisis facing rugby by stepping up its efforts to increase the number of black faces in national teams by increasing the “POC” (people of colour) quota at domestic level from four to five, with two places compulsorily reserved for black Africans.
Far from being driven purely by morality or ethics, the game’s administrators believe the decision to accelerate change is largely pragmatic.
“While we embrace the moral arguments to right the wrongs of the past, the greater imperative for CSA is to ensure growth and sustainability of the game for future generations to enjoy,” says chief executive Haroon Lorgat.
“Given the unequal distribution of resources, transformation through affirmation and redress becomes a sine qua non [an essential condition] so that we can achieve our long-term goals of growth, sustainability and excellence.”
Lorgat bristles with anger when the suggestion is made that transformation in the form of player quotas can hinder rather than enhance the path to excellence. “It is absolute nonsense to think that transformation is not being pursued with excellence in mind. The proof is clear in our results at the highest level,” Lorgat says.
Black African participation at franchise level is also a practical necessity and, despite the genuine misgivings expressed by three established black African players, Lorgat defends the compulsory inclusion of at least two.
“We applied it [on a voluntary basis] with much success last season. It is not merely a player selected on the basis of colour, because we actively monitor the ‘quality of the opportunity’ granted to the player. In other words, they must be worth their place.
“We have seen the change in attitude across the board, which has since led to several black African players showing their worth.”
Understandably, all of the active black players the Mail?&?Guardian spoke to preferred not to speak on the record, although they were happy to have their quotes appear unattributed.
“I am concerned that, just when people have stopped questioning my place in the team, we go back to square one,” says one player.
Another says: “Everyone has a bad game, but now the black players can’t afford to have even a bad day because people will start looking at each other with ‘that look’, which says: ‘We know why he is in the team’.”
A third says: “It has been a hard journey for many of us, but the progress is happening; there are much more black players coming through. I don’t think this is necessary.”
Lorgat says he can understand their concerns: “Some players feel uneasy about the topic of transformation, but if they are confident about their abilities, they should not be concerned with their place in the team, as some of the world’s best have shown.
“We need to look no further than the world-class quality of players like [Hashim] Amla, [Makhaya] Ntini, [JP] Duminy, [Vernon] Philander and [Lonwabo] Tsotsobe, to name only a few. These have all been faced with much greater challenges than the new generation of black players. The new generation should draw inspiration from these greats,” Lorgat says.
Another rarely discussed topic is the difficulties of keeping young black players involved in the game beyond school-leaving age. Scholarships to traditional cricket-playing schools have led to several teenagers bowing to parental pressure to take advantage of their privileged education rather than their cricket skills. Fast-bowling promise becomes accounting or business management reality.
“It is a real issue and we are now proactively trying to tackle it through the appointment of mentors, bursary schemes, and general awareness of the specific challenges faced by young black players,” Lorgat says.
Despite rumours to the contrary, Lorgat says commercial partners and sponsors have placed no pressure on CSA to speed up its transformation results. “They all wholeheartedly support the transformation imperatives of CSA. I am not aware of any pressure from this stakeholder group to move faster, perhaps because they are regularly updated, know our particular challenges and understand our intentions.”
Lorgat says the objective for the future is as clear as it is simple: “We want to excel and we also want cricket to be supported by the majority of South Africans and available to all who want to play the game.”
There is no compromise and no olive branch to the sceptics. Unless they want to treat his final sentence as one: “I must be clear. There are no targets or quotas in any of our national teams as we select strictly on merit at international level.”