Opinions are like the proverbial arsehole – everyone has one. As such, no Springbok squad is ever going to please everyone, but how on Earth can Sharks centre Lukanhyo Am not make coach Allister Coetzee’s 34-man squad for this year’s Rugby Championship?
On pure form alone, he should be in the squad. And in an era that has SA Rugby committed to a promise of 50% black representation in the national side by the 2019 World Cup, his non-selection borders on the insane.
The same goes for facilitating the return of loosehead prop Steven Kitshoff when we have players like Ox Nche and Lizo Gqoboko in the queue behind incumbent Beast Mtawarira. This is no disrespect to Kitshoff, who is a truly world-class player, but in the quest for a more representative side, there are going to be casualties.
My word, do I long for the day the Bok side is picked purely on merit, but in the interim we have some wrongs of the past to redress.
A more sustainable, long-term solution would be to focus on grassroots development with a view to delivering more players of colour further up the food chain. But that takes money, hard work, and time – three things that do not exactly roll off the tongue when describing the track record of the current government.
So instead, it’s simpler, and more public, to target the national side. I abhor any form of selection based on race, and got myself into a whole heap of trouble when suggesting this current selection policy to be a mirror of what went down prior to unity.
But there is now, factually, a clause in our constitution allowing for “fair discrimination” in order to address the previous regime’s racial bias, and the chosen vehicle is the Springbok side.
This while the Lions have been allowed to surf their tidal wave of success with a squad of 23 that had just 4 players of colour in it for the final last Saturday. That’s a discussion for another day, but it does point out how impractical a “target the top, forget about the bottom” transformation policy is, and how brutally tough it is on Coetzee.
Be that as it may, the point I want to make is that while this chosen policy remains part of our rugby fabric, then surely we must make it part of the conversation?
As it stands, if a white guy questions a black selection, he is racist … And if a black guy questions a white selection, he is pushing an agenda. We seem to have no common ground!
By announcing squads without a conversation around the transformation targets, are we not just increasing the divide? People just tear into the squad, with those comments quickly descending into the racial makeup. We no longer speak rugby.
And in not allowing an open and honest discussion, we find the coach trying to defend the selection of Trevor Nyakane as a tighthead prop with ridiculous explanations like, “he will be good when we travel with a smaller squad, as he can play both sides”.
Sans the conversation, will the elephant in the room not just chase more and more people away from the game? TV numbers and stadium numbers are already through the floor. We need to restore the faith, not break it down.
What about a national campaign to drive open and honest discussion around transformation, with a view to getting the country on board, and building toward something better?
Transformation gets a bad rap given how it’s been implemented. Yet at its core, it is a fantastic initiative aimed at unearthing talent currently lying dormant.
Look, it would be tough on the players affected, but surely open and honest discussion around transformation goals when naming teams would make for a more positive narrative?
Or perhaps, like a few good men out there, “we can’t handle the truth”?