Springbok captain Siya Kolisi took some heat recently for saying that he does not want to be picked because of the colour of his skin, and that former President Nelson Mandela would not have supported a quota system in South African sport.
But it was a comment on his schooling from the first black man to ever captain the Springboks that caught my eye.
“If you want to talk about transformation, you have got to start there (at a school level)”, said Kolisi.
“Imagine I hadn’t gone to an English school. I wouldn’t have eaten properly, I wouldn’t have grown properly and I wouldn’t have had the preparation that the other boys did.”
How true is that for most Springboks? Let alone the Boks of colour! OK, not the English part, but the part about nutrition, conditioning and training.
“Transformation” via the top-down quota approach is the easy way out because it is simple to monitor. And perhaps more importantly in our teetering society, a platform from which simple political points can be scored.
The much more difficult approach – one that requires planning, a well thought-out strategy, and resources – is the one that starts from the bottom. And schools would need to form a vital cog in such a plan, hence Kolisi’s comments on Madiba probably being in favour of such a plan ahead of quotas.
But with the number of boys playing rugby at school on the slide, what should be a key cog in any transformation plan is fast becoming a concern for the sport in general. Not only in SA, but in the world’s top rugby nation as well.
An independent review of New Zealand secondary school rugby reveals that numbers of boys playing rugby at secondary school is trending downwards at an “alarming rate”. A key finding in the report is that stacked First XV schoolboy rugby teams are a massive factor in the decreasing playing numbers. The report was also damning of First XV rugby and the recruitment practices of some schools.
“In general, they view the pooling of talent into a few strong rugby schools as a significant factor in the decrease of numbers playing the game because of flow on effects of, for example uneven competitions,” was the opinion of people surveyed for the report.
Many were of the opinion that there needs to be better balance between schools developing their own talent versus bringing in talented players from other schools and provinces.
In 2018, 11 Auckland schools threatened to boycott games involving St Kent’s school over what they believed were unacceptable levels of recruitment.
In South Africa we have already seen a fair amount of that, the most recent being in the Cape, where Paarl Boys’ High were forced to respond to accusations from SACS and Wynberg that they have been guilty of player poaching.
In both instances, the boys are players of colour, a factor that adds yet another level of complexity to an already tricky scenario.
Quite clearly, Paarl Boys are recruiting. And quite clearly, they are stacking – when last did a southern suburbs side beat them? But are they not also offering these boys, clearly intent in pursuing rugby as a career (a topic for another column), an incredible opportunity? And if quotas are how we judge transformation, then why should Paarl Boys not be recruiting players of colour?
Which, apart from opening up a very smelly can of worms, might also give some insight as to why Siya Kolisi thinks that Nelson Mandela would probably not have been in favour of quotas.