SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux says black players and coaches should be given a platform to tell their stories and everyone else should make greater effort to hear what is being said.
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 international movement has also progressed into rugby circles, with a host of players, including Springbok captain Siya Kolisi and several other former players and coaches, highlighting inequalities within the local rugby system and calling for an end to systemic racism within the game.
In a media briefing via a digital news conference on Tuesday, Roux said while SA Rugby’s transformation targets are being met, the organisation is willing to have open and honest conversations about past injustices levelled against people of colour and is open to suggestions for ways to make amends and for the way forward.
‘As a federation, with no disrespect to other federations, we have been very good at acknowledging the sins and the wrongs of the past,’ Roux said. ‘We’ve been making good progress around our transformation, specifically with the new strategic transformation plan that we have up until 2030.Within that plan there are 36 dimensions for which we’ve agreed targets with all our unions and all of those targets are towards what government has asked us.
‘Having said that, I think what we’re dealing with here at the moment with Blacks Lives Matter, farm murders and gender-based violence and all the other social problems the president has asked us to look at currently within this country, transcends far beyond transformation and what a transformation plan is. Because we are now dealing with what is basically respect for others, respect for cultural differences and respect for human life and how we treat people on a daily basis.
‘What we as sport can do for this county, and we have shown it all along in specifically rugby, is that we can materially influence certain of those elements in the way we operate and the way we react to those things.’
‘In terms of Blacks Lives Matter specifically, and towards the issues that are currently on the table, I think we need to own up in terms of those conversations and not steer away from those conversations. The first thing we need to do is let people tell their stories, but more importantly we’ve got to listen to those stories and then hear what they’re saying. That’s always been the issue, letting people voice what it is they believe is wrong. We’ve got to listen to those stories but more importantly we’ve got to hear what they are saying.
‘We’ve got to continue dialogue and we’ve got to figure it out together and determine if we need to adapt things to help figure it out then absolutely we have to do that. What we should not do is steer away from the uncomfortable conversations and the things people refer to as the awkward truths, because it’s the realities of our lives. These issues are very serious matters that transcends way beyond sport and are part of our daily lives.
‘So, certainly from our point of view, there are people voicing their concerns and we’ve got to take those concerns, listen to it and look at where we stand in terms of those. Is our plan significant and robust enough to address those things? If they need to change then we’ll go back to our executive and our unions and say listen:
“Yes, we have agreed on the following and, yes, we’re happy with what we’re doing and the progress we’re making and we consistently said we don’t celebrate progress, we’ll celebrate when we’ve got success, so maybe some of these elements we need to change.”‘
Last week a group of 49 black coaches released a joint statement relating to SA Rugby’s lack of black coaches at club and provincial levels.
On Tuesday, Roux singled out that matter and confirmed that SA Rugby is working on improvement in that department.
‘Specifically around the coaches, Rassie [Erasmus, director of rugby] did present us with a plan around the fast tracking of black coaches and getting us to the targets quicker than where we are at the moment,’ Roux explained.
‘We will look at that plan a little more seriously now and will address the issues that are there. I believe we were the first [sport governing body] to have really stepped up and shown that we have intent and a direction that we want to go in and that we’re consistently trying to achieve that.
‘In terms of dialogue, a process will follow and we will listen to all of those things. Our executive will decide the way forward for us within that environment , but first foremost we need to return to what is respect for other people and human beings across the board.’
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