As someone who is employed to, among other things, troll rugby platforms – this one included – for the many issues my colleagues raise, I get amazed at how conveniently the so-called traditional rugby fan base blames quotas for everything they don’t like about the game.
A referee gets a decision wrong – it’s quotas. A player who is not in the running for the Springbok team becomes a multimillionaire overnight by signing for an overseas club –the quotas made him do it. The SA Rugby chief executive is facing fraud charges – you know the score.
Maybe I should start by explaining how a word which actually means “a fixed minimum or maximum number of a particular group of people allowed to do something” was introduced into our lexicon, came to mean black in rugby and has been divisive ever since.
Not long after “unity” in 1992, government – upon seeing that the coaches of the time insisted on selecting teams which resembled fantasy league sides from the 1970s Currie Cup scene – decreed that a minimum of two black players had to be accommodated at all times in all rugby teams.
Of course, it’s silly to impose percentages like that in a performance-based environment. But the truth is that they read rugby’s reluctance to integrate correctly because “minimum” became the maximum and, in time, evolved to two black wings – a metaphor for being put on the periphery of the game.
If you’re not buying it consider that, of the SA coaches who have landed overseas jobs in Europe or Japan (and who presumably have the budget to buy whoever they want), only Jake White has ever bought a black South African player.
This leads one to suspect they wouldn’t select black players in SA if they didn’t have to.
The reason I go through the comments section in rugby platforms is to gain a sense of what fans want to talk about.
But when on average the third comment is about quotas in response to a story that has nothing to do with that, the identikit formed of majority white rugby fans is that of people who don’t even try to sound rational in a discussion and have no compunction going the racist route to make a point that’s already going off at a tangent.
A week ago someone made a throwaway remark here that Sharks hooker Akker van der Merwe was a victim of quotas without substantiating it. Despite the more obvious fact that a 37-year-old Schalk Brits, plucked from retirement by the Bok coach, is standing in Akker’s way, nobody challenged that.
It’s also telling that Bongi Mbonambi has suddenly become an undeserving quota after being instrumental to the series win against England last June and bringing the heat in the closing stages of the game against France in November.
Another reader, responding to a Jake White column about rugby institutions maintaining their culture to keep succeeding, likened integration to, and I quote, “mixing shyte with ice cream”.
The fact that he was cowardly in hiding behind a pseudonym to make that analogy suggests he knows how staggeringly racist that was, but the bigger issue for me is that his statement went completely unchecked by his fellow readers, which sadly hints at some form of agreement.
There’s an irrational determination by rugby to fully integrating (note, it’s integrate and not overrun it with black people, as the fear seems to be) the sport even though logic suggests it could only be beneficial.
A few years ago Steve Hansen came out in sympathy for Heyneke Meyer because the selection policies of the country were supposedly tying his hands behind his back.
While the rest of us see being encouraged to select a national team from a slightly broader base than just the eight percent white minority Meyer seemingly wanted to select from, the former Bok coach somehow saw it as limiting that he wasn’t allowed to pick his whole team from Pretoria.
The only way forward for South African rugby, which is dying a slow death because it refuses to evolve at every level, is tapping into a market it hasn’t before. The stubborn refusal to will hasten its demise.