Racism and rugby

January 17, 2013
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Quite powerful isn’t it?  I also thought so when I was asked to write about it.

About two months ago I was asked if I would be interested to write an article for a sports magazine on a very controversial subject in SA Rugby, racism.

I did not even give it a second thought at the time as I felt it was something I personally covered to a great extent over the years, but as I sat down to tackle the issue, it became very clear very quickly that if I was to be honest in this article, I would have to face some harsh realities.  You see the topic wasn’t just to talk about racism in rugby or transformation, but it was more a debate where one writer would write an article saying that racism is rife in SA Rugby, and the other (me) countering that argument.

Now firstly, it would be stupid to deny that racism in rugby or sport does not exist.  It exists here, it exists in New Zealand (just ask Pat Lam), it exists in Australia as Greg Ritchie made quite clear not too long ago, and of course it exists in Europe – you just have to follow football to know this.  Fact is, racism can be found in many ways, many forms, and many sports all over the world, what we need to guard against is tainting the sport, or a certain group of individuals under the same brush because of some radical idiots and their actions and remarks.

In South African sport the issue of racism working against the transformation goals is often brought up.  Just last year Heyneke Meyer was accused of being racist because he did not pick certain individuals for the Springboks, and more recently, Cricket South Africa was in the news again warning the Proteas management to pick more black players ‘or else…’.

I find accusations like these against high profile, professional coaches not only absurd but insulting – but I despise it even more because it is an easy cop-out to the real problems we face to successfully transform the game to represent the demographics of the country.

Here is a fun fact for readers; Did you know that black and coloured players make up over 50% of all rugby players at schools and club levels?  In some areas in the south of the country, this figure goes up to 60% and in specific areas (like the Eastern Cape) even exceeds that!  So what are the questions we should ask?  Should it be if we are producing enough black talent at grass-roots level or rather, why we are losing them as we move to professional structures?

As easy as it is to scream racism as the cause for not seeing black players come through the ranks and become professional rugby players, the reasons are actually quite simple.

As much as the average numbers suggests that enough black players are taking up the game at school and club level the reality is that the majority of players are from the southern parts of South Africa, or the coastal regions and specifically the Eastern Cape.  In the North, the numbers drop significantly to as low as 10% in certain areas.  The problem we have in the north is due to a number of factors but the most important one is that only about 4% of schools in this region offer rugby as a sport in school.  In fact, overall numbers of kids playing the game up north have dropped significantly from 1995 to now.

What is now created is a bottle-neck effect where the majority of black players are centralised to specific regions, and what compounds the problem of converting these numbers to elite levels is that the rugby infrastructures in these regions have also unfortunately been neglected quite badly over the past couple of years.

What transpires is that while some of these talented youngsters are identified, they are forced out of their provinces and homes to go play elsewhere where proper academies and institutes exist (ironically up North).  But to fully understand the impact this will have on any young kid you have to understand the socio-economic environment they grow up in or as Dr Willie Basson who studied this said; “The problem in the south is not transformation, it is how one goes about improving the quality of rugby played in that region, particularly in the Eastern Cape, where rugby-playing profiles mimic population demographics at school and club level.”

Dr Basson went on to say that; “The performances of those kids from the Eastern and Western Cape and other previously disadvantaged players are seriously impacted by factors originating from the multidimensional environments in which they function.

They are taken away from their homes to play rugby in another province, in a totally different environment. In addition, there are also sometimes extraordinary social factors from home and family issues that will impact on them,” he said.

These factors affected their game and coaches lost faith in them. From this highly professional environment the player then returned home to various social issues, including family abuse, drugs and unplanned pregnancies.

Furthermore, South Africa’s 40 percent unemployment rate also contributed to the problem of losing talented black players.

“While these players are on the up in their game but don’t yet have contracts, they also have to worry about jobs. The job market is highly competitive and it is difficult for them to pursue a rugby career at the same time as working.

“These players then disappear from the scene and are lost to South African rugby. But two or three years earlier they were part of winning teams, bringing world cups home,” he said.

The one easy solution for these problems would be for SA Rugby to try and establish rugby as a much more prominent sport in schools up north to help even out the spread of black player talent being developed or introduced to the game, but that will require the help of government and that is easier said than done.

The other obvious solution would be to create a sustainable environment in the south and regions like the Eastern Cape through proper academies or institutes where more numbers are converted locally, but that would require the unions in this region to get their house in order and some might even believe we have a better chance to work with government up north than get this done.

SA Rugby will probably highlight the recent inclusion of the Kings in Super Rugby as a turning point in this regard, but how it was done is hardly sustainable.  With a 1-year gig only we have already seen the Kings (EP based) not include a single player from neighbouring unions SWD and Border in their squad and with 5 foreigners included and only 9 players of colour the exercise defies the purpose.

We are currently only winning part of the transformation battle in rugby in South Africa, and SA Rugby has some tough decisions to make if we are to get away from the easy cop-out of screaming racism every time a Springbok coach does not select more black or coloured players.  But if we can get to a point to move beyond labelling everything racist and deal with the actual problems, it will be a start.

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22 Comments

  1. avatar Vetgesmeerde Blits says:
    January 17th, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    Very interesting article.

    There must be a few Breyton Paulse’s falling through the cracks every year.

    SARU should appoint full time talent scouts to focus on club players rugby in rural areas
    and send the best ones to trail with the unions. The unions are not really interested in players that didn’t perform at Craven Week.

    Reading this article made one thing clear to me, the Eastern Cape needs a proper team that plays Super Rugby. The whole Kings concept was done in the wrong way but I do believe it will be good for the whole of South African rugby in the long run.

  2. avatar bryce_in_oz says:
    January 17th, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    “But if we can get to a point to move beyond labelling everything racist and deal with the actual problems, it will be a start.”

    Good luck with that mate… it barely happens in other countries… never going to happen in RSA…

  3. avatar Jacques(Bunny)Die wat nie hier is nie is elders!! says:
    January 17th, 2013 at 4:14 pm

    The Kings playing in Super Rugby will help the region but what was a surprise to me when the Cheetahs played them in the CC promotion-relegation match…the Cheetahs actually fielded more players of colour than the Kings.

    They will need to play in this Super shit more than just one year to have an effect in the region.

    I suggest they will be worse off after this year than before playing in Super rugby.

  4. avatar Timeo says:
    January 17th, 2013 at 9:39 pm

    America’s Hansie

    On the eve of Lance Armstrong’s publicly admitting that he used performance-enhancing drugs during his cycling career, he was stripped of yet another prize: his bronze medal from the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

    The International Olympic Committee on Wednesday night sent a letter to Armstrong, asking him to return the bronze medal he won in the men’s individual road cycling time trial. The committee had delayed its decision to ask for the medal back while waiting for Armstrong’s deadline to appeal his doping case. That deadline has passed.

    Armstrong, 41, last year was stripped of his record seven Tour de France titles and all other awards he received from Aug. 1, 1998, on. The record books will not have a winner for those Tours now because the sport was so rife with doping at the time.

    Only a few accolades on Armstrong’s cycling résumé remain, including a national and world championship he won in 1993.

    After years of denying he ever doped, Armstrong is expected to come clean about his drug use in an interview with Oprah Winfrey set to be broadcast on her network on Thursday and Friday.

  5. avatar Timeo says:
    January 17th, 2013 at 9:39 pm

    here is the source

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/18/sports/cycling/lance-armstrong-stripped-of-2000-olympic-bronze-medal.html?_r=0

  6. avatar Morné says:
    January 17th, 2013 at 9:42 pm

    Reply to Timeo @ 9:39 pm:

    Only thing I am looking forward to, is who he will now take down with him.

  7. avatar bryce_in_oz says:
    January 18th, 2013 at 1:26 am

    Reply to Timeo @ 9:39 pm:

    Hansie doesn’t even come close to Armstrong…

    The questions Oprah should have asked Lance Armstrong!

    1. Why now, Lance? Is it because in one potential perjury case the statute of limitations has passed? Is it because you’ve already lost almost all your sponsors, had to step back from your foundation and are no longer getting the attention you once earned? Did you have to lose nearly everything until you sought the only possible out? And at this point, why are you worth listening to at all?

    2. Why are you doing this with me, Oprah Winfrey? I’m not known for my cycling knowledge or for pointed follow-up questions or my investigative journalistic skills. In fact, it’s the opposite. Wouldn’t sitting down with Scott Pelley at “60 Minutes” have been a more legitimate forum? How about the Sunday Times, which you sued for libel for printing the truth? Or any of the French or American media that you bashed all along when in fact they weren’t wrong at all? You always fashioned yourself as a tough guy, Lance. You beat cancer for crying out loud, why go soft now?

    3. Let’s talk Betsy Andreu, the wife of one your former team-mates, Frankie. Both Andreus testified under oath that they were in a hospital room in 1996 when you admitted to a doctor to using EPO, HGH and steroids. You responded by calling them “vindictive, bitter, vengeful and jealous.” And that’s the stuff we can say on TV. And what would you say directly to Betsy, who dealt with a voicemail from one of your henchmen that included, she’s testified, this: “I hope somebody breaks a baseball bat over your head. I also hope that one day you have adversity in your life and you have some type of tragedy that will … definitely make an impact on you.” When you heard about that voicemail, why didn’t you call Betsy and apologise then?

    4. By the way, did you take performance-enhancing drugs prior to your diagnosis of testicular cancer, as Betsy Andreu, who I now have every single reason to believe, says you admitted to doing? Do you think it played a role in your diagnosis? And while the reason you contracted cancer does nothing to diminish the intensity of your battle, or the great example of strength it provided, don’t you think it would’ve been an essential part of your public campaign against the disease to mention that you used performance-enhancing drugs?

    5. Just to get it on the record, because the way things are going I’m pretty sure this will come out at a later date, did you or your minions ever pressure federal authorities to stall investigations into your doping? Now, you wouldn’t lie to me, right, Lance?

    6. What do you say to Emma O’Reilly, who was a young Dublin native when she was first hired by the US Postal team to give massages to the riders after races? In the early 2000s, she told stories of rampant doping and how she was used to transport the drugs across international borders. In the USADA report, she testified that you tried to “make my life hell.” Her story was true, Lance, wasn’t it? And you knew it was true. Yet despite knowing it was true, you, a famous multimillionaire superstar, used high-priced lawyers to sue this simple woman for more money than she was worth in England, where slander laws favour the famous. She had no chance to fight it. She testified that you tried to ruin her by spreading word that she was a prostitute with a heavy drinking problem. “The traumatising part,” she once told the New York Times, “was dealing with telling the truth.” Do you want to apologise to her? Not in general. I mean directly and by name. I mean, Lance, of all the people to attack like that, of all the people you had power and wealth over, you had to go after her? How Lance, could you do this to someone, and why would anyone want to believe again in someone capable of doing this to someone?

    7. In 2011, former team-mate Tyler Hamilton spoke about you and doping on “60 Minutes.” He later said you two ran into each other in a Colorado restaurant where he says you tried to intimidate him, saying, “I’m going to make your life a living hell both in the courtroom and out of the courtroom.” Yet you knew he was telling the truth, right Lance? So why threaten him?

    8. Greg LeMond, a three-time Tour de France champion, once raised the following hypothetical question: “If Lance’s story is true, it’s the greatest comeback in the history of sport. If it’s not, it’s the greatest fraud.” The allegation is that you heard that and decided to use your influence with Trek bikes to drop its association with LeMond’s brand. The company even went to court to end a long-term contract. “Greg’s public comments hurt the LeMond brand and the Trek brand,” a company official said at the time. What comment? Wondering about something that was true? The move cost LeMond millions. Did you try to ruin him financially simply for spite?

    9. We’ve just scratched the surface on people you pushed around. There are more victims in your wake. Do you want me to continue with the others?

  8. avatar Timeo says:
    January 18th, 2013 at 2:05 am

    Reply to bryce_in_oz @ 1:26 am:

    I guess it’s true about Texas, everything is bigger. Even the transgressions of the fallen heroes. :cry:

  9. avatar Ollie says:
    January 18th, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    Reply to bryce_in_oz @ 1:26 am:

    Lance did not go on Oprah to come clean and purge his soul, I subscribe to Paddy Uptons theory that Lance could be psychopathic and this a well planned stategy

  10. avatar biltongbek says:
    January 18th, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    Lance is a fraud. Nothing more to say really, he built a career on cheats, lies and intimidation.

  11. avatar Timeo says:
    January 18th, 2013 at 2:07 pm

    Don’t be so fast to condemn. Our rugby heroes are doping also.

  12. avatar bryce_in_oz says:
    January 18th, 2013 at 4:18 pm

    Reply to Ollie @ 12:16 pm:

    Oh but of course… Oprah did not gift him a George Foreman toaster under his seat :wink:

    And Oprah didn’t invite him there for the real probing questions… albeit they were eye-opening if one had not been following the decade of allegations particularly from 2009 and onwards… it was the controlled confessional he had to make…

    Whilst I’d like to see him spill the beans on the black-market criminal elements and the entire racing frat… it’s obvious why he couldn’t/cannot…

    Reply to Timeo @ 2:07 pm:

    Yep I’m a bit over it now… amazing how many glass-houses there are world-wide all of a sudden…

  13. avatar Sasori says:
    January 18th, 2013 at 5:05 pm

    Ugh, i’m so tired of reading about transformation….its just a code word for, get rid of whitey.

    Tell me, if we look at the NBA, why are there no calls to transform the game considering how skewed the racial participation is compared to the racial make-up of the US?

    Oh thats right, cause it wouldn’t get back at the white man.

    Same thing with NFL.

    Screw transformation, what is most important is creating opportunity. IF a black kid in a rural area loves rugby and wants to play, all that should be done is to provide him those opportunities.

    We live in a supposed post-racial south africa, but our politicians are clearly the most racists for demanding race based quotas!

  14. avatar Ollie says:
    January 18th, 2013 at 5:19 pm

    Reply to bryce_in_oz @ 4:18 pm:

    I’ve just listened to part 1 of the interview and Oprah did answer some of your question, such as Emma O’Reilly. Lance admits that she got a rough deal and he owes her an apology. You won’t get more than that out of him on tv.

    A big pity that Lance refused to implicate anybody else though. I wonder if that will still come out.

  15. avatar Timeo says:
    January 18th, 2013 at 5:37 pm

    Top athletes face a difficult choice. Dope and risk disgrace or don’t dope and forget about making it to the top.

  16. avatar Boertjie says:
    January 18th, 2013 at 5:46 pm

    I met a chap in the shop – must be
    6 ft 5 thereabouts and 100kg plus.
    Turns out he plays flank, moving to
    lock this year.
    Hasn’t played Craven Week.
    Wants to play club rugby.
    Which club?
    “Nee, Oom, ek gaan nou eers graad 11 toe.”

  17. avatar Morné says:
    January 18th, 2013 at 9:23 pm

    Reply to Sasori @ 5:05 pm:

    Hmmm…

    And here I thought the whole message behind the post was about creating opportunities rather than the free ride bullshit we saw for the last 20 years.

    You are right, that is the point, I did not bring that over well enough it seems.

    Reply to bryce_in_oz @ 4:18 pm:

    Cycling has the most advanced tests to catch dopers.

    That should scare the shit out of any other sports just on the fact of how many (rugby players) are currently getting away with doping.

  18. avatar Boertjie says:
    January 18th, 2013 at 10:01 pm

    Reply to Morné @ 9:23 pm:

    Ek het gelees 70% van skoolspelers gebruik
    opkikkers. Baie onder die druk van pappa.
    Het hulle enige toetse op daardie vlak?
    Maar dis darem seker nie so erg soos die goed
    wat Armstrong gesluk het nie.

  19. avatar Sasori says:
    January 18th, 2013 at 10:11 pm

    Reply to Boertjie @ 10:01 pm: Yip, ek weet definitief byvoorbeeld dat Luke Watson steroides gebruik het op skool.

    Reply to Morné @ 9:23 pm: Nah Morne, don’t take my post as a criticism of your abilities as a writer. I see red when I hear people talk about transformation. The word should not be used in this context anymore IMO.

    Instead of transforming rugby, we should encourage participation from as many south africans as possible. To do this I agree there are special challenges for certain communities that do not exists with e.g. the Afrikaner community. Transformation just has such a negative and hateful connotation to it, I find it offensive.

  20. avatar Morné says:
    January 19th, 2013 at 8:12 am

    Reply to Boertjie @ 10:01 pm:

    No tests at school level – they are not allowed to.

    Random boys are tested at Craven Week but that is it.

    Ek dink jou nommer van 70% is konserwatief, en soos jy se, kinders kan nie die goed bekostig nie, mammie en pappie of coach kry dit.

    Reply to Sasori @ 10:11 pm:

    It is a hated term because of the way it was abused for the last 19 years.

    It is not going away though, we must just try to get it working properly.

  21. avatar DavidS says:
    January 20th, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    Or we assume that like in the US and Britain and France in some areas people prefer rugby over soccer.

    In Britain’s northern working class cities rugby comes distant second to soccer.

    In the US there are exceptions but some cities are gridiron football cities, some baseball, some ice hockey and some basketball. It just depends where you are.

    Same with US colleges. Some colleges choose their sports that they especially participate in.

    Whenever I hear racism as a word spoken these days I just switch off. Transformation too.

    Not interested.

    They have become overused cliched jargon used by some people to justify their own inabilities or inability to explain reality.

  22. avatar Boertjie says:
    January 20th, 2013 at 7:08 pm

    Reply to DavidS @ 2:22 pm:

    :applause:

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