Too much white in Saru’s colour mix

It came as a surprise to many that South African Rugby Union (Saru) chief executive Jurie Roux had the opportunity this week to praise his organisation’s progress in transforming the racial structure of the game. After all, their goal of achieving a 50% player-of-colour World Cup squad seems a distant dream and their board structure can only hanker after such a ratio.

But, on Monday, the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) revealed in the annual Sport Transformation Status report that rugby’s national federation had made some serious dents in their targets, achieving 60% of them. These are goals set by Saru and approved by the department of sport. The latter demands that every federation achieve a universal barometer of at least 50% of their goals. All data was compiled from the 2016-2017 financial year.

The report reveals that the demographics of rugby are still far from representative of our nation. Of those playing the game at a senior men’s level, 58% are white. The Springboks average during that year is even higher at 62%. But progress is the name of the game and Saru seems to have become adept at playing it.

Are they justified in claiming significant progress? After all, to paraphrase Mark Twain, statistics are pliable.

EPG committee secretary Willie Basson said he had never “observed a greater commitment from Saru’s leadership body to address this thing and to resolve it, to remove the barriers and clean up the pipeline”.


Basson has been integral in the production of the annual transformation report in recent years. Having spent more than 30 years in South African sport, he has keenly watched how the nation has grappled with identity issues on the field and the different paths of recourse it has chosen to take.

Although he is content with the progress of the traditional game, it is the sevens format that he is eager to hold up as a paragon to all other codes.

“The sevens team is a jewel of the transformation model,” Basson says. “The sevens are the most transformed entity in South African sport; no other code can compare. I’ll leave football out for the moment.

“The door is open because it’s driven by people with right attitudes, the right orientation, the right value sets. If you can open up the pipeline between school level and provincial teams, then you will open up the whole channel right up until the national team.”

It is a blockage in that pipeline that has seen the 15-a-side game stutter to where it is today, he argues. There is no adequate filter to ensure successful school players end up in provincial teams. In any case, the structure at pre-tertiary level is insufficient in ensuring the talent pool grows in the first place.

Basson argues that, at major events such as Craven Week, “they are dying to bring in black representation”, but for the most part there is a lack of opportunity in the under-18 structures.

“School sport has become the Achilles heel of South African sport,” he continues. “The sustainability of sport in certain codes is going to be severely challenged in the medium to long term.

“If you watch these games on TV on a Saturday afternoon, the bulk of these matches are being played by old Model C schools. Most of them are 80%-plus white. The participating schools, through inter-school competitions, are very white.

“You can only have successful transformation in your national team if your whole pipeline is open.”

According to the report that Basson helped to formulate, transformation has become a necessity that no one can ignore. There may be progress but we are far from labelling it a successful mission.

According to the data, changing population dynamics mean the white under-18 player pool, the primary source for rugby players at the moment, is likely to reduce by 50% in only 15 years. The mathematics is therefore simple: bring rugby to the greater population or sentence it to a slow death.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham

Luke Feltham runs the Mail & Guardian's sports desk. He was previously the online day editor.

Related stories

Not acknowledging crimes against humanity is the Springbok way

South African rugby was racist, is still racist, and nothing will truly transform it.

Lala kahle Kaunda Ntunja

South African rugby has lost a gentle giant in Kaunda Ntunja. His commentary in isiXhosa poetically ushered in the Springboks’ first black captain and ‘popped champagne’ after Mapimpi’s magic

The grey areas in Jake White’s coaching career

The World Cup-winning coach has an impeccable CV, with an illustrious coaching career that has taken him all over the globe. But he has a reputation problem

How Schalk Brits built his fantasy

The Springbok hooker built his long career on his ability to adapt — and will likely do so again now that he’s finally retired from rugby

Sport audit 2019: How SA’s national rugby team performed

The highlight of South Africa's year was the Springboks Rugby World Cup victory

Rennie: All Blacks left it too late to offer me coach job

New Zealand has said its new coaching team will be named before Christmas, but it has now missed out on at least three high-profile candidates
Advertising

Subscribers only

SAA bailout raises more questions

As the government continues to grapple with the troubles facing the airline, it would do well to keep on eye on the impending Denel implosion

ANC’s rogue deployees revealed

Despite 6 300 ANC cadres working in government, the party’s integrity committee has done little to deal with its accused members

More top stories

The Nigerian government is killing its citizens — again

‘Nigeria kills its people. Nigeria has always killed its people.’

Finance probe into the Ingonyama Trust Board goes ahead

The threat of legal action from ITB chairperson Jerome Ngwenya fails to halt forensic audit ordered by the land reform minister

Ailing Far East Rand hospital purchases ‘vanity’ furniture

Dr Zacharia Mathaba, who purchased the furniture, is a suspected overtime fraudster and was appointed as Gauteng hospital chief executive despite facing serious disciplinary charges

Institutions of higher learning should commemorate their casualties

The bust of Matikweni Nkuna at Tshwane University of Technology is an example of how we should honour those who fought for equal access to education
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday