The Sharks deserve enduring credit for becoming one of the truly transformed teams in South African sport, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
The Sharks ‘see colour’. At a time when many are still wary to talk of transformation – which remains a fiercely divisive subject in some circles – the Durban-based franchise has flipped the conversation.
Rather than run from the subject, the Sharks have sought to create a culture of open communication. But more than that, actions clearly speak louder than words.
This past Saturday, nine players of colour were selected in the starting lineup to play the Griquas, four others were on the bench.
It’s been a familiar squad composition throughout 2020, and reflects selections based on merit, but also comes as a result of a clear-minded understanding of inclusivity and diversity headed by CEO Eduard Coetzee, and embraced by the management and players.
Not long ago, Coetzee in fact completed a thesis on transformation for his doctorate in leadership studies, to the tune of producing a 286-page, 90 000-word document.
To say he knows a bit about the complex subject is an understatement.
In an interview from earlier this year, he also shed illuminating light on what it means to ‘see colour’.
‘It’s not a campaign, it’s a movement. Campaigns have a start and end to them. “I See Colour” is a statement of intent. It’s the way we see the world and how we treat each other,’ he added.
‘In South Africa, we are blessed with such a diverse community. We’ve got this rainbow nation where everyone has got colour. And it’s just celebrating that, it’s celebrating our diversity and not trying to say that everyone is the same.’
This is not a PR exercise for the Sharks, and a successful, transformed team is paving a positive way forward in this particular, and all-important department.
Recently, I chatted to Aphelele Fassi about the movement, and what it meant to him as a player of colour.
‘I think it says that we don’t differentiate between who’s white and who’s black. We’re all the same; we all buy into one thing and we all see each other as equals. As one, basically. When I got involved in that campaign, it was an eye-opener, how we treated each other as one. As I said, that campaign felt like it covered everything that we are trying to build at the Sharks.’
As Fassi says, it is eye-opening. It’s a subject that players want to be able to address openly.
For example, and in a national context, Rassie Erasmus’ policy of transparency towards transformation was also one of the most compelling reminders to come out of the first episode of the ‘Chasing the Sun’ documentary.
‘Our strategic goal for the squad was quite clear: winning, transformation, squad depth and experience,’ South Africa’s director of rugby shares.
‘The first leg was transformation, we said: “Guys, we are going to win but we are going to fix transformation.” Now I’m talking about black players on the field, and black management in the management, we’re going to fix that. Know it, we’re going to talk openly about that. People like to talk in the media about it, but the people that are actually impacted by it don’t talk about it.’
Legendary prop Beast Mtawarira called transformation ‘the big elephant in the room’ that no one wanted to talk about until Erasmus stepped in.
It was also a sentiment echoed by Siya Kolisi, who revealed one of his biggest struggles as a ‘black Springbok rugby player’.
‘There were times [in the past] where I felt I was just in the team because of my skin colour and I hated it. The words that you get called, a “quota”. I worked so hard all my life, and gave my life to South African rugby and South Africa. That’s why I stay here, but then you get people calling you names like that.’
It’s been a slow process of change in South African rugby, but progress is being made – not in every professional team, and also certainly not enough in some school circles.
But the Sharks have embraced transformation. They ‘see colour’, and it should be celebrated!
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images