• ‘We simply want fair opportunities’

    The group of rugby players and coaches who have united behind the Black Lives Matter movement has grown to nearly 500, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

    Last week, Proteas cricketer Lungi Ngidi, who was recently named SA Men’s ODI and T20I Cricketer of the Year, told reporters that he will encourage his Proteas teammates to take a united stand against racism.

    It served to ignite a closer look at this subject in a South African sporting context, with several other black cricketers sharing their experiences of racism and prejudice, while the likes of Faf du Plessis, Hashim Amla and Rassie van der Dussen have unequivocally thrown their support behind Ngidi.

    The movement has also progressed into rugby circles, with a host of players and coaches releasing a statement of their own on Wednesday, highlighting inequalities within the local rugby system and calling for an end to systemic racism within the game.

    READ: Rugby coaches join BLM movement

    Initially, the group confirmed 49 participants had signed on to support the statement, but that number has quickly swelled to over 470 … and counting.

    In an exclusive interview with SA Rugby magazine, spokesman for the group, Dr Wilbur Kraak, provided detail into its formation and hopes to begin meaningful dialogue.

    ‘This is not about race, we simply want fair opportunities for all … All black coaches want is opportunities, resources and support. And the same can be said for players, coaches, administrators, service providers and many others. Our ethos are racial and gender equality, diversity, inclusivity, empathy and human dignity and respect for all.

    ‘The reality is that black coaches don’t get appointed because people don’t trust their abilities and skill set they bring to the table. And that’s because we still believe rugby belongs to one race … We still have a long way to go, but there is no better time than now to address these issues.

    ‘My plea to the people is to stop listening with the intent to defend yourself. Start listening with the intent to understand why we are unhappy, because there is a lot of hurt out there … I think it’s time to have these hard and honest discussions. A lot of education needs to happen about where we’re coming from.’

    In its statement, the group particularly highlighted:

    • 100% exclusion of black head coaches at Springbok, SA U20, PRO14, Super Rugby and Premier Currie Cup levels
    • 100% exclusion of black CEOs
    • 100% exclusion of blacks as high-performance managers.

    SA Rugby president Mark Alexander has said ‘there has undoubtedly been a failure to provide opportunities for black coaches’, but reiterated the plan to deliver on a ‘fast-track programme’.

    Kraak said the question had to be asked why it was still the case that black coaches needed to be fast tracked, reiterating that there were more than enough qualified candidates who were ready, and now just needed opportunities, support and trust.

    ‘If you look at stats around top positions for head coaches – and I’m talking Craven Week, Top 20 schools, Varsity Cup, Currie Cup, Super Rugby and PRO14 – just 7% of head coaches are black, and if that’s not scary enough than I don’t know what other facts can possibly be provided.

    ‘We are not an angry group, we’re just looking at facts and believe the picture needs to change. We just want an opportunity, we don’t want to be seen as development coaches or fast-tracking coaches, but just to be appointed with the same resources and support. That’s what we’re fighting for, and the same goes for coaches, players, administrators, service providers and rugby agents.

    ‘For the record, we are staunch supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement and are opposed to farm murders, or any other murders, and the spate of gender-based violence in this country fills us with rage.

    ‘We want people to listen with the intent to understand, and to move forward.’

    READ: ‘We’ve failed black coaches’ – Alexander

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    Craig Lewis