Changing The Game

Twenty years and five rugby world cups have passed since the great Nelson Mandela wore a Springbok rugby jersey to promote racial reconciliation however there is still a noticeable lack of transformation within the team.

With the 2015 Rugby World Cup upon us, South Africa has missed the opportunity to show the world how the game of rugby has grown within our country when they selected only nine players of color in the 31 man Bok squad. This is far short of the 50 percent target quota that the springbok administrators had set four years ago.

Springbok World Cup squad
Springbok World Cup squad

While many see the springbok squad as strong and a favorite to win the Rugby World Cup, others say the lack of transformation, specifically the lack of black players is a disgrace. These include COSATU, former Springbok coach Peter De Villiers (the first and only non-white national rugby coach for South Africa) and the political party Agency for New Agenda (ANA).

Peter De Villiers has become the new “Champion for Change” around South Africa as he has been speaking out about the current state and selections of the Springboks. De Villiers was a guest speaker when COSATU held a Springbok supporters for transformation meeting in August this year. Not only does De Villiers claim that South African rugby has been “taken into the gutters”, but that black players are being excluded from selection in preference of white favorites. COSATU added that if the team did not represent the entire South African population they will embark on a radical programme of mass action that will include protesting Springbok games in South Africa and sending South Africans to protest at the Rugby World Cup.

Former Bok coach Peter De Villiers
Former Bok coach Peter De Villiers

The Agency of New Agenda Party took the legal route after the 31 man Springbok squad was announced. The ANA president Edward Mahlomola Mokhoanatse has made similar claims to De Villiers saying that the team’s criteria is “racially exclusive” and biased in favor of white players as only nine players of color were selected. The ANA had attempted to get an order from the North Gauteng High Court to compel South African Rugby Union (SARU) and sports department officials to surrender their passports so they cannot travel. The ANA also wrote to World Rugby‚ the game’s governing body‚ requesting that it “suspend the membership of South Africa until such time that this country has a representative national team”. These attempts to prevent the Springboks from participating failed as the court application was turned down five days later by Judge Moses Mavundla.

Sports and recreation Minister Fikile Mbalula said on Twitter that, “Full transformation in rugby is not going to emerge overnight because we are going to the World Cup”. Mbalula insists that a quota system will not work on a sustainable basis as it has failed in the past. Too often transformation has been focused exclusively on the final product of the national team. Yet the national team should be a reflection of transformative processes that have taken place in earlier stages such as school and club level where young players are discovered and developed.

Statistics released by SARU show that there are more players of color in schools and clubs but this representation has failed to be carried through into senior, provincial and national levels of the game. Transformation in South African rugby will continue to remain a challenge at senior professional level until the Department of Sports and Recreation begin to address the issues experienced at schools and clubs.

It is clear that transformation cannot happen without development. New structures will need to be put in place to ensure that the game of rugby can develop and transform so that in future Rugby World Cups our national team can be supported by all South Africans.