Where is Am?

Tank Lanning

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”?

- Tank Lanning

Let's chat

  • Sharky

    Good article! I know we am bashing our heads on a brick wall here but I agree that forced “quotas” and “transformation” as we have witness them in South African sport do more harm (to the sport and society in general) than good.

    The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration released a document on discrimination where it lists affirmative action as a form of “fair discrimination” allowed by law. It goes on to state that “Affirmative action aims to achieve equality at work without lowering standards and without unduly limiting the prospects of existing employees”. If this is the government’s aim then I would argue that that racial selection policies fail on both of these grounds because, as you intimate, players of greater talent or skill are going to overlooked. How can this do anything other than lower standards and unduly limit the prospects of players from a certain demographic. No wonder so many youngsters are leaving our shores!

    I had a friend who, in the early 2000s, played for the Blue Bulls age group teams. He was black and he had serious talent, but he ended up calling quits on a potential professional rugby career because of the (what he called) “soft racism” he experienced – being excluded by white players extra-curricular activities, being ignored on the rugby field and so on. That sort of thing does need to stop and I would hope it is less common nowadays, but at the same time my friend was of the opinion that such treatment was mostly due to black players being perceived as “quotas”. Now, that perception only exists because of affirmative action in sport.

    Affirmative action in rugby also creates a situation where good black players selected on merit may (in the back of his mind) constantly fear a drop in form which would risk them being labeled a “quota”. Whereas an out of form white player who is selected is merely a “poor selection”. That’s institutional racism in one direction fueling public racism in the other!!

    I totally 100% agree that “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”. I have even advocated the unthinkable – an all black “Impi XV” in the vein of the Maori All Blacks. This side could be used as a bridge to full international colours by providing fringe black players with the opportunity to play against tier 2 nations. I, however, doubt that the government would ever support a team selected on racial grounds. Note the mild sarcasm there…

    But the solutions are manifold and fairly simple. For example, SARU could employ a team of scouts to scour majority black school and township rugby clubs for youth talent and work to feed those kids into establish rugby schools. Those kids would then benefit from good coaching, experience a rugby culture and get a good education as well! They would also be front and center when Craven Week and provincial scouts come a-looking – putting these kids on track for a professional career. And in that way transformation could be implemented as a “fantastic initiative aimed at unearthing talent currently lying dormant”. This would raise rugby standards by providing further talent into the player pool. Now that is much better than the current system which promotes window dressing and player selections based on non-merit or political considerations.

    But in the end my comments are probably all pipedreams. If the government sticks to its policy of “panem et circenses” then we will continue to be a country where quick fixes where superficial impressions trump meaningful, long-lasting progress.

    • Tank Lanning Tank Lanning

      Hi Sharky. Shot for the incredibly insightful and well presented comment. It’s one of those touchy subjects that we are seemingly not allowed to talk about. But I think we should be talking about it, with a view to taking the emotion out of it. Easier said than done! I had the pleasure of playing with Chester Williams, Tinus Linee, Jerome Paarwater, Breyton Paulse, to name but a few, and too a man, they have all said that they would prefer merit selections in order to remove the corridor gossip. More recently, I have interviewed both Siya Kolisi and Sikhumbuzo Notshe, and both said the same thing to me. I think the only sustainable model is from the bottom up, and I love your school idea …

      • Hopeful

        Emotion…..hard thing to exclude when we have so much passion for our country and the team that represents us…

        Without imitating a William Wallace type speech….we are a country proud of our sport and when the system tries to take advantage we need to push back….at what point do we stand up and say enough is enough….to many players are loosing their rightful place and that includes players of colour…

        It almost seems like the old boys club and their buddy system takes preference….we pay for the TV subscriptions, tickets, Supporters kits, affiliated products and those products that allow sponsors to pay the bills….

        As childish as the calls to boycot may seem I’m now a believer…I couldn’t be bothered if all the players are players of colour or all white….if the best fifteen are there I’m all in but when merit is substituted for political requirements….it’s not my team!!!

        Selectors grow a spine….until then my passion is lost!!!

      • Gavin Cairns

        Hi Tank sadly all those players you named are all great players but in the eyes of our current ANC government being coloured they’re simply not “black enough” anymore.

        They are far keener on pushing the agenda of full blooded black players above all else….which makes it even more ludicrous to have left out Lukhanyo Am?

        However I’m in total agreement with you….all selection should be purely on merit. People stop seeing colour when the player is selected on merit. Take Bryan Habana for example…..did anyone see him as a “player of colour”? I know I certainly didn’t….I simply saw him as one of the greatest wings in world rugby to don the green and gold.

        Sharky in my eyes is 100% correct….player development should all start at school level. In this way we bring the players through the ranks based solely on their skill sets and talent and I also feel that in this way perhaps we may stem the tide of the exodus of young players leaving our shores?

        It’s a delicate subject but this rubbish about the team fitting the “demographics” of our country is simply that. If the USA decided to implement this then only 13% of the basketball franchises would be populated by African Americans…..which we all know is utter stupidity as they dominate the sport and the whites are simply not in their league.

        We need to leave the amateur era behind and embrace professionalism…..

  • Barry Smith

    Good article – Am’s exclusion is really hard to understand!

    • Albert Hoffman

      its easier to understand than the omission of mapoe, voster, van rensburg and combrink! The guys that form the rest of the best backline in SA! But worry we still have dumb dumb de allende! Go quota boks!

  • Zamshark

    I agree 100% on Am. Outstandingly explosive the whole season! We need to move away from hanging onto the old guard that have begun to lag.

  • Albert Hoffman

    Am?? How about mapoe?? Remember him, the guy from the best team in SA who had an outstanding season?? Mapoe had a far better season than am, except am plays for the sharks and mapoe plays for the lions. And u cant have too many lions in the team can u? Even though they are by far the best team and the only team that can compete with the kiwis. But wheres am? who cares. Bigger conversation should be wheres Mapoe, Voster, van Rensburg, combrink?? again, all lions, we cant have that can we?

  • Steve

    The whole transformation issue is difficult enough without truly IDIOTIC decisions like leaving Am out and not making Kolisi captain now that Whiteley’s injured. Both Am and Kolisi fully deserve these positions one trillion percent ON MERIT!!!!!!!

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