The much debated question of quotas in schoolboy rugby was on the mind, and lips of many supporters during the youth weeks this year. I was fortunate enough to attend all weeks this year,and happy to report that the quality of all non white players, with a hand full of exceptions, was on par with their white counter parts. The star of the u18 tournament, Wandisile Simelane is black and if this is questioned by anybody, *&^% blerry &^*&.
So do we still need quotas. Unfortunately my answer is still a BIG yes.
Rugby, like all others sports is dependent on its support base to grow and cultivate their stars of tomorrow. This is clear to see in the compilation of the teams at the respective youth weeks. Coloureds is responsible for at least 85% of the "quota" players at the youth weeks, not surprising as their fan base of rugby is known and visible. So is the Coloureds sorted? Unfortunately not, among this race group discontent is growing. The opinion is that talented boys are taken up in the elite school's system and as that produces more than enough players to fulfill requirements, the rest is simply ignored. Nothing is done to promote and improve rugby in the forgotten areas.
Unfortunately this is not only found in the Western Cape or in Coloured areas. This situation is found all over South Africa. At the Bulls it is said without apologies, "If your child is not in the right schools we will not even bother". In the Western Cape it is well known that certain "coloured connections" will help your son get chosen for the Craven Week teams. So not a question of race but one of attitude and ethics?
My biggest concern is the loss of talented black players. In the Northern Provinces almost nothing is done in the black communities. Yes we do have the occasional hand out of T Shirts and promotional items. Yes we have special initiatives from individuals. At the Gauteng Lions we have the Soweto Rugby Union that wants to start their own thing. Will it have any effect. Unfortunately nothing at all. We need to grow the love for rugby from grass root levels. We need to see township schools getting access to proper facilities and training. We need the black community to fall in love with rugby.
During the youth weeks I was constantly reminded that rugby is a professional sport. In civil life a company not looking after its customers will fail. A company not always looking to find new market opportunities will be overtaken by others and fail. South African rugby is in a unique position. They have a possible client base, 10 times bigger than the size of their current client base, on their doorstep and eager to get involved with them. Their current client base is more than willing to finance their expansion, in order to save the product they love. South African rugby need to become professional and act as such. Quotas reminds me of a company like BMW developing a go-kart and hoping it will save them
In South Africa we are bombarded daily with rugby union's finances being under pressure and match attendance falling. But still they only shout help and do nothing to help themselves. We can only shake our heads in disbelieve and smile. Maybe it is time that real professionals are allowed to purchase a union and make a success of it. Maybe it is time we get professional.
So what is the solution? Some would say it is the government's responsibility, it is a social issue, surely it is the government's responsibility. The government say it is the responsibility of the unions. The easy way out, some would say.
My proposal is two fold:
One : Force the unions to spend a certain percentage of their gross income on development, real development not buying enough stars to satisfy government. Gross income is the income before expenses for those who do not know. This will force the unions to become more efficient and pay market related salaries to those employed. And if you are a manager of a corner cafe, market related salary does not suggest the salary of a Pick and Pay manager. Make your employees work for the company and not the company work for them.
Two : Stop all quotas in rugby. Stop insulting our emerging black stars by calling them quotas. Stop giving the white boys not good enough an excuse, claiming their failure to be the result of quotas. Us supporters gets excited, as seen at the youth weeks, by talent regardless of the player's colour. Us supporters want to see the Springboks become no 1 in world rugby.
Unfortunately step two is only a dream until step one is enforced and successful. Until then rugby will remain a target for politicians. Rugby will remain the sport of the white elite.
Therefore Yes SA Rugby need quotas in order to satisfy the masses' cry for participation and representation. Yes rugby needs quotas to survive in South Africa. May one day, maybe.