Sports minister Fikile Mbalula is encouraged by the work being done to aid transformation, but has reiterated that ‘quotas are counterproductive’. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
Mbalula visited the Springboks at their team hotel in Cape Town on Friday to wish them well ahead of Saturday’s Test against Ireland.
Bok coach Allister Coetzee has selected nine players of colour in his first match 23, and while Mbalula said he was looking forward to the start of a new era in Bok rugby, he insisted that work to accelerate transformation needed to start at grassroots level.
‘There’s a new coach and new players, the transformation trajectory is part of the journey to the next World Cup. In relation to the Boks, I think serious work has begun, not only at the national level, but at grassroots level … We’ve got an abundance of talent in South Africa, and we have to uncover it.
‘Look at the U20 team playing in the World Championship, there is excellent talent coming out there. There’s also a lot of progress in the sevens team. There is a lot of talent in this country and it tells you about the talent we have at the various levels. There are other JP Pietersens and Bryan Habanas. Look at the likes of Garth April, give the likes of those players an opportunity, let them run, let them play … I’m excited by what I see at U20 level, at that incubation stage, which can supply talent to the top level.’
SA Rugby and the sports ministry have agreed to transformation targets that aim for at least half the Springbok side to consists of players of colour by 2019, with 60% of those required to be black African.
Mbalula said he believed strides could be made in the right direction if all parties continued to work together towards a common goal.
‘I’m now able to understand in rugby what causes the backlog and constraints in relation to transformation. We’ve genuinely sat together and not just punched numbers that are unrealistic. We need to find the players in the system and work together to reach the targets within the period agreed upon … Everybody wants transformation, and there is organic work being done, starting from the grassroots. No one is here to make up the numbers, people are here on merit.
‘We must acknowledge that quotas don’t help, they’re counterproductive,’ he added. ‘If you select someone as a quota player, it’s an insult. How can you participate in a national team if you’re not there on merit? But we’ve got to go down to get this talent that we have in abundance, and bring it to the fore. Merit is not dissociated with transformation. I don’t want quotas, I don’t want the targets to be met in that way just to make the minister happy. It’s about an integrated society and going through a process to get the national teams to where they should be.’
Although Mbalula caused an uproar when he announced in April that he had revoked SA Rugby's right to host and bid for international tournaments after failing to meet its agreed transformation targets, he said he remained open to discussions around what could be done to have the ‘ban’ retracted.
‘The rescinding of the ban will be determined in the coming year depending on how far they [SA Rugby] have come with regard to the targets they’ve agreed to. We’ve got a five-year cycle in terms of our agreement. In the first year, those targets were not met. So in the next year, we need to review those targets again, and see whether they’ve been met, and then we can assess the ban that was implemented and which I stand by. It’s only imposed in terms of the year under review.
‘We’ve always been open to discussions. The sports bodies have committed themselves to certain targets … We’re not punishing people to destroy sport, but we want to take sport forward. I think in the next five or 10 years we will no longer be talking about transformation in sport if we singlemindedly move in unison in terms of what we want to achieve. Now we’re beginning to focus on the job that needs to be done.’
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