Nearly two decades after the fall of apartheid, a black South Africa is struggling to sell high-profile, white-dominated cricket and rugby teams as “non-racial”.
Sporting authorities have reintroduced racial quotas for domestic professional teams in a bid to encourage more black Africans to emerge through the ranks
The latest to adopt quotas is cricket with the country’s six franchises ordered to field at least one black African in each starting line-up.
Teams that field more than one black player will get a cash bonus.
The only black African coach among the domestic professional teams, Geoff Toyana of the Highveld Lions, backs the idea of quotas.
“It’s not a bad thing, it’s spot-on,” Toyana said.
“Hopefully, more players will be exposed and more will play. Hopefully, in the next two to three years we will see a black African batsman playing for South Africa … or guys like Mangaliso Mosehle [of Titans] might come in as a wicketkeeper.
“You cannot explain that a population of 80% black African people cannot produce one Test player – it doesn’t make sense,” said Toyana.
Cricket officials speak of a “huge drop out” of black African players between under-19 and franchise levels.
“Black African players need to get quality and meaningful opportunities and, therefore, the incentive-based transformation policy was introduced,” said Corrie van Zyl, general manager of Cricket South Africa (CSA).
But the restoration of a quota system, two decades into democracy, is seen by observers as a sign of failure by both sporting administrators and government to develop sport among previously disadvantaged racial groups.
The problem, according to Frans Cronje of the South African Institute of Race Relations is that “we are not investing in young people”.
“How do you think players are going to be produced when the best you produce is a dusty sports field? Unless you learn to bat with a soccer ball in some dust of the Eastern Cape, you are not going to do it,” said Cronje.
Only five black Africans have played for South Africa’s national cricket side since 1991 when the country was accepted into international competitions.
“It is not a statistic that we are proud of,” admitted Van Zyl. “It shows just how important it is for us to bring many more African players through the system.”
“Next year we celebrate 20 years of democracy in our land and it is simply not acceptable for 80-plus percent of the population not to feel represented in one of our national sides.”
Previously, racial quotas generated heated debate in South Africa, but now there appears to be a general consensus.
The majority of players accept that “transformation is imperative”, said Tony Irish, chief executive of the South African Cricketers’ Association.
A quota system was introduced in 1999 but scrapped in 2007. Blacks remain under-represented in cricket and rugby, but dominate in football, where the national team is faring terribly.
The latest round of quota systems were adopted at a 2011 meeting of all sporting bodies and government.
Rugby quotas will take effect next year and seven players in each 22-man Vodacom Cup (a second-tier competition below the Currie Cup) squad must be black, including at least two forwards.
But the move has brought into question the possibility of sidelining other racial groups – Coloureds and Indians. Van Zyl said the early attempt at quotas was “a huge success” for the development of Coloured and Asian cricketers. – AFP