Transformation in sport slow but sure

CHANGING THE GAME: Bryan Habana, now the leading Bok try-scorer. Picture: GALLO IMAGES
CHANGING THE GAME: Bryan Habana, now the leading Bok try-scorer. Picture: GALLO IMAGES

IN 20 years of democracy, South African sporting teams and individuals have achieved many things on the world stage – rugby World Cups, African soccer success, Olympic gold medals and major golf titles. But the one aspect the country’s sporting institutions appear not to have quite conquered yet is the thorny issue of transformation in sport.

This was brought sharply into focus early this month when Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula laid down some rules evidently to force the country’s sporting teams to become more representative of the broader population.

Transformation is seen by some sporting fans as a ploy to put more blacks into the national teams at the expense of merit selection. Yet the concept is so much more than that and only the naive will believe that in a country with as complex a history as South Africa, there is no place for transformation.

Asked how he would explain the concept of transformation to the average sports fan, Cricket SA (CSA) president Chris Nenzani said: “Transformation is the response of an organisation to the changing demands in the market that it serves to ensure its own sustainability, relevance and competitive edge.”

Essentially, then, transformation is an effort to provide equal opportunities for all the country’s sporting players to have a fair chance of reaching the top in their chosen profession.

Former Warriors chief executive Dave Emslie feels strongly that transformation is more than just a numbers game, and has to be embraced in a heartfelt sense. “Probably too many people who are given the responsibility of transformation understand it, understand the moral imperative and the figure imperative, but they don’t have it in their heart.”

In speaking to several cricket administrators, the common thread running through their responses was the lack of decent facilities to ensure players in the poor areas had equal opportunities to develop their skills.

Warriors assistant coach Malibongwe Maketa and EP Cricket acting chief executive Tono Mle both emphasised how important it was to have good facilities to tap into talent in the townships. “At present we’re not tapping into all demographics of our country,” he said.

“If we could tap into more areas I have no doubt we could unearth the Makhaya Ntinis and Mfuneko Ngams of this world. I believe it can be achieved by building from the bottom up through investing in development and upgrading facilities in neglected areas.”

Mle felt the sports community needed greater support from government structures to ensure facilities remained up to standard. “For example, EP cricket, through the 2003 Legacy Project, built the Kwanobuhle Oval for R500000,” he said, “but now it has been vandalised and not maintained. It is the municipality’s responsibility to maintain that and they are not really helping us. People are playing on sub-standard facilities and it does not help us with transformation.”

In fairness, it must be said that CSA have developed many facilities countrywide to alleviate that specific problem and that has, to a degree, aided the process of transformation. But the national body acknowledges that the increasing levels of poverty in many disadvantaged communities are affecting the situation.

In a similar vein, the SA Rugby Union (Saru) are proud of many achievements in the field of transformation but acknowledge there is no time for complacency. Highlighting the transformation successes since 1994, Saru president Oregan Hoskins said: “Rugby is unrecognisable from the sport that emerged from international isolation in 1992.

“There have been six black players of the year; a black player is now the leading try scorer in Springbok history [Bryan Habana]; the team has had a black coach and provincial teams and crowds are more multiracial than ever before.

“We have opened four academies in the Cape – with funding from Lotto – deliberately focused on producing black Springboks.” – Neale Emslie

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