Why schools are raiding Eastern Cape

The desire to win at a 1st XV level and meet race-based quotas at a provincial level are behind the poaching of schoolboy rugby talent from the Eastern Cape, writes THEO GARRUN.

SARugbymag.co.za’s Dylan Jack opened the can of worms called school rugby recruitment nice and early this year with an article on the luring of talent from Dale and Queen’s Colleges to, presumably, the elite schools of the KZN Midlands and Durban.

It received quite a bit of attention, including 114 shares so far of its Facebook link, and 131 comments. Many of those who commented believe there is nothing wrong with the practice and they wonder, some of them quite rudely, what Jack is on about.

Those who think the ‘buying’ of players – black African youngsters, mainly from disadvantaged homes in this case – is a good thing, cite the reasons you often hear. It’s offering the players a better future via an education at a good school, and a chance to develop as rugby players through good coaching and competition. They will get recognition at those schools and it may lead to a future as professional players for them.

All of which might very well happen of course, although there are some alarming cases where this promise of a brighter future goes up in smoke as soon as the talented youngster doesn’t develop as expected, or is injured, or simply doesn’t fit in with his fabulous new surroundings. Then it’s all too often a ticket back to the rural Eastern Cape.

Many do become great players and go on to play at the highest levels, and there are schools that do commit themselves to the holistic development of all their pupils.  These institutions will keep the boy on even if he flops as a player. So you can’t condemn the process out of hand – claiming it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good – but we are kidding ourselves if we believe that the raiding of the schools such as Dale and Queen’s, located in the parts of the country where rugby is traditionally the sport of choice among black children, is being done purely for philanthropic reasons.

No. There are two things behind this: wins for the 1st XVs of schools and the rankings that go with that, and the enforced compliance of race-based quotas to compile representative teams at school and senior levels. And those quotas are increasingly going to distinguish between black African players specifically and players of colour generally in future.

As a result, schools on the hunt send their scouts to the festivals and the U13 and U16 provincial weeks on the lookout for talented players who are going to win games for them in times ahead. They have the support, financial and technical, of the provincial unions who know they have to select Craven Week teams according to ever-increasing quotas. They all feel the pressure from SA Rugby to field black African players in their senior teams. It’s then much easier to look for ready-made rugby players in the places where they already exist than to create development programmes and nurture them from there.

That’s why the talented players at Dale and Queen’s are being targeted, and those who engage in the practice should own up to it and not hide behind noble-sounding talk of offering opportunities to those in need.

Anyone who is able to offer those opportunities should be doing so of course, but rugby talent shouldn’t be the main or only criterion for deciding who is given the chance.

If serving rugby is what you have at heart, why not leave the youngsters at schools like Dale and Queen’s, where they are getting good coaching and games, and spread your net to take in the many talented kids who don’t have any access to the game?

A really disturbing issue raised in Jack’s article is that the predator schools have become very good at getting to the parents of the boys they want, making them financial offers they can’t refuse. Not much ethical behaviour and educational principles in play here.

It’s a dishonourable business and the dishonour overshadows the good that is being done in the process. Those who have the power to put an end to it are the headmasters of the schools involved. They have the authority, and they should have the morality to see it for what it really is – and end it, as early as right now!

ALSO READ: KZN schools accused of player poaching

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Theo Garrun