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Why quotas in South African sport must fall

By Dhirshan Gobind

Quotas in South African sport, conveniently disguised as “transformation”, have long been a contentious issue among administrators, politicians, players and most importantly fans. To tackle this burning issue, we need to go back to its roots. Only then can we deconstruct it, try to understand where it’s going, explain its impracticality and why it simply offers more negatives than positives and does more harm than good.

By now, all sports lovers understand the gist of it. Apartheid caused a great divide. This spread across all facets of society, none more so than the sporting spectrum. South African teams were selected on colour and all non-white athletes were prohibited from participating in sport. We were ultimately and rightly so, banned from competing internationally.

Post 1994, the new government looked to address these past injustices and level the playing fields, particularly in sport. Quota systems were introduced in sports such as rugby and cricket, among others, to include black players and afford them opportunities. A worthy initiative that was met with mixed reactions and sparked debate, which has meandered on through the decades into present day where there is still no consensus.

So what is the ultimate solution? The bottom line is that if teams are still picked on colour and not merit then it is indeed a form of apartheid in reverse. If we do not learn from history then we are bound to repeat it. If we are to convince the world that we are indeed a rainbow nation then we need to start living by it. Everyone deserves an equal opportunity.

Yes, past injustices need to be corrected but do it smartly. Implement platforms and structures at junior levels to include and nurture black children and afford them opportunities that they once missed out on. Groom them from the youngest possible age in order to provide them with the best possible chance of success. But, when you begin enforcing strict quotas on provincial and national teams that is where we are veering extremely off course and heading into the proverbial abyss.

Currently, Cricket South Africa has given birth to a new quota system whereby each team has to include six players of colour, including three black Africans. Standards will inevitably drop. Even if a black player deserves his place, he is always going to be under scrutiny. South African Rugby has already committed to a 50% non-white Springbok rugby team for the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Saru president Oregan Hoskins has sadly stated that “transformation” will take precedence over results in the next four years. With such mentality and thinking, we shouldn’t even be participating on the world stage.

How do coaches carry out their primary function of leading teams to victory, without such issues hindering them and their squads in a negative manner? How do such coaches “fit” certain players of colour in for the sake of doing so? If a provincial cricket team has a squad of three African players and all are injured, how is the stipulated quota to be fulfilled? This is the kind of problem the Lions cricket team encountered lately when they were embarrassingly forced to field their coach and a spectator from the crowd simply to meet certain quota criteria.

Instead of being concerned about strategies, tactics and winning formulas, coaching staff instead have to focus unnecessarily on these types of issues. How do black players feel, knowing they are there to make up mere numbers? How do the deserving white players feel, knowing they should have been included? This is what leads to an exodus of talent, Kevin Pietersen being the prime example. It messes with player’s livelihoods as it prevents the omitted, yet deserving, players of building up match fees, as well as the chance to impress national selectors.

These are just a few of the many negatives that a quota system brings. Specific examples include the 2007 Cricket World Cup squad. Loots Bosman and Roger Telemachus were selected ahead of the deserving Dale Steyn and Albie Morkel to make up a pre-promised quota of seven black players. Both players managed one game between them. How is a team expected to win world cups? The 2015 edition dished up “text-gate”, where Haroon Lorgat allegedly messaged management to include Vernon Philander ahead of the in-form Kyle Abbott in a crunch semi-final.

How do we expect to catch the All Blacks in rugby for example, when we are sabotaging ourselves? There are also double standards at play. If equal race representation is of such importance then why is our national football team exempt? The bottom line is that rugby is traditionally a white man’s game and soccer a black man’s sport. Let us play to such strengths and use it to our advantage to build our teams.

If this is not learnt quickly, we are soon going to be the laughing stock of the sporting world. Ironically, our cricket and rugby teams have done incredibly well “in spite” of enforced quotas but our football team, with no such worries, still fails. Imagine if cricket and rugby were simply allowed to pick their best teams? Proper transformation produces players such as Bryan Habana and Kagiso Rabada. Quotas simply leave a sour taste in the mouth for all concerned, even those benefiting from it. Only individual sports such as golf seem safe.

My humble opinion is that if such a biased system continues to be implemented, true sports fans must push for an international ban just like before. The quota system goes against all international sports policies and simply put, we cannot mix sports and politics. Major teams such as the Wallabies and Indian cricket team should boycott tours and series involving us. Our players should officially strike or boycott matches themselves and fans should stay away from matches. A form of tough love in order to wake up our administrators once and for all.

Quotas seem a convenient way to incite a bit of revenge for the past and if you wish to sugar-coat it, “transformation” seems a noble way to correct the past. But where is our national pride for goodness sake? All this coming from a non-white, but patriotic citizen, such as myself, should make some statement. An official red card to the quota system! #QuotasMustFall

Dhirshan Gobind is a 30-something freelance sports columnist/writer and a University of KwaZulu-Natal alumnus with a degree in marketing management. He also has a tri-weekly column in The Post.

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    • Mahendran Govender

      And how will you drive grass-roots transformation without enforcement of numbers at the top level?

      What incentive will there be to change when the best players, from extremely privileged backgrounds which Allowed them to be the best, are chosen for the national squad?

      If the privileged system is churning out excellent players, and there is no penalty for simply ‘choosing the best’, what reason is there to divert funds to programmes that uplifts underprivileged sports-people?

    • dg

      Hi Mahen. Thanks for the comments! I think there are already multiple programs and structures and tons of funds invested into grassroots development for those underprivileged individuals. That’s how the Makhaya Ntini’s get their fair chance and make it to the top from rural areas. All I am saying is don’t place strict and rigid numbers on upper level and national level teams. It simply does more harm to national pride than anything else. It also is not really doing those quota players any good as they will feel awkward and undeserving, especially if they end up failing. As an Indian male, I want us all to have a fair chance but let’s earn our salt and have self-pride.

    • 1Zoo1

      The quota system should get us banned from international sport. It is everything sport is not and must go.

      If you want more people to play certain games you need to develop school sports.

      But that means taking down SADTU.

      I live next door to a SADTU school and drive past another on the way to work. Both have all the infrastructure you need – rugby fields, cricket field, swimming pools, tennis courts. You name it.

      But they are all rotting to pieces because the school is run by SADTU and they don’t do sports – at all.

      Fix that problem and everything takes care of itself. In fact, get rid of SADTU and our kids have a chance of even getting an education!

    • dg

      Great points! Also, why should a few politicians have a say that affects us millions? Would we rather show the world that we are a little diverse on the sports field or would we rather just pick the best and win world cups and leave lasting legacies?

    • Jessica

      Hear-hear. Well put.

    • Jo

      Your racist argument is shallow and mediocre.

      “we need to go back to its roots” – yet you ignore THE root: deeply entrenched racism in society that seeps into everything, including who ends up becoming “quality players”

      “if teams are still picked on colour and not merit” – uh, since when is colour and merit exclusive categories?!

      Reverse apartheid? Really?! Is that the best you got? Do you even know what apartheid was??? You equate having a few more black bodies on a sports team to an entire system of social segregation that violently oppressed a whole population! Please google apartheid. Read every article on the first ten pages of results.

      Your 6th paragraph is SO RACIST that I could speak for days in response to it. Read it again. Slowly. And if you still do not see how racist it is, then you have a problem.

      “to include six players of colour, including three black Africans. Standards will inevitably drop.”


      Why will standards INEVITABLY drop?

      They will only INEVITABLY drop if YOU believe that black people are INEVITABLY INFERIOR. In other words, this article’s argument only makes sense if you are already racist.

      Please do not insult black people with your racist mentality and thinking.

    • Jo

      Insufficient response. This is all rooted in your own thinking that “quota players… will feel awkward and undeserving”.
      YOU believe they are undeserving and so YOU are writing this whole ridiculous sermon about how black people must just work hard despite a system that is not in favour of them!

      And what about white players who “end up failing”. Or – in your worldview – do white people never fail??

    • Jo

      uh because millions of people voted for those politicians to make those decisions! And if they disagreed they would vote differently in the next election, but the only outrage I see is from DA-supporters who would love everything to be based on “merit”.

    • Jo

      I agree. SADTU is messed up and bad for our education system. But it has nothing to do with racist arguments that black people are automatically inferior and “drop standards” in sports.

    • dg

      Jo, I think you forget that I am also non-white and when I say ‘black’, I refer to Indians (like me), coloureds and black Africans. So I cannot be seen as a racist if I am talking about my own race as well. If I was white then it is a different story. Mail and Guardian will have not published this if it was hate speech or racism, its goes against their terms, conditions, rules and regulations. I think we will have to agree to disagree on this one. We all see the world differently. If we all agreed then there will be no need for any debate, articles written, discourse or anything of the sort, so I respect your views. There a re millions who will agree with you (across all races) and millions who will agree with me (across all races). With your accusations, questions, statements etc., I could write a 10 page response but I feel you will in turn write me a 10 page reply and we will be going back and forth. So we will have to agree to disagree. Go well . . .

    • dg

      Jo, as I stated, the new rules is a 6/5 black/white split for a cricket team – set out by cricket SA. It is logic that if for example, 8 of the best 11 players for a cricket team are white but 3 have to drop out in order to accommodate the stipulated 5 maximum white players, then standards are dropping as the best are not allowed to play. You forget I am also non-white. No race is inferior or superior – all I am saying is pick the best. If the best are majority white then so be it. If the best are all non-white then please pick those. I just want the best players picked even if they are all purple.

    • dg

      Jo – It is sad that you do not see the reason I wrote this piece: to
      stamp out racism (in sport) as I vehemently oppose racism! So to call me racist doesn’t make sense. Quotas are a form of racism and are the
      reason we got banned before as no other country believe in such
      policies. It is different when a deserving player (white or not) fails compared to an undeserving player who fails – huge difference. I also think you misconstrue my terms: ‘black’ in my article refers to African, Coloured AND Indian (which I am) – I am not referring on black Africans only.

    • dg

      By the way, I meant ‘Apartheid in reverse’ within the sporting context and not as a whole, as the headline ‘ . . . in sport’ implies. A smart person like yourself should have realized that.

    • Suntosh Pillay

      Hey Dhirshan –

      I don’t watch a lot of sport so I’m not too clued up on the factors that affect performance, but from a transformation and ethical perspective I am in favour of quotas for two reasons:

      1. Same as Mahen’s point – enforcement at top-level will drive efforts at bottom-level. Without top-level numbers-games, programmes for the under privileged become forms of charity, community outreach, or corporate social investment – they don’t become urgent motivators for changes at the national team level. It is unethical to invest in grassroots, while not creating the supportive structures at the top that enable the hopes and dreams of black kids to be realized.
      2. Sport has always been politically and ethically complicated in South Africa. So the use of quotas as an ethical political tool towards social change seems fair.

      You win some, you lose some. I’d rather we lose some with a team that looks like a South African team, than a team that does not.

      Like Affirmative Action, the issues are often in the implementation of quotas, not in quotas themselves.

    • dg

      Hi Suntosh.

      Thanks for the feedback, much appreciated. I respect your stance and as I stated elsewhere, inevitably some will agree with me, some will not. It’s normal and human nature.

      Personally, as a life-long sports fan, I simply want us to win. Maybe it is not advised but in sport I don’t care about race (which is why I was shocked to be called a racist below). If all 11 players in a cricket team are white and those are the best 11 in the country, I am all for it as all I desire is a winning team. But, as a non-white, I would love for those 11 to be non-white . . . but only if they are indeed the best 11. I simply love us excelling on the world stage.

      An example I came up with is: say you are given a career defining task at work and your boss asks you to pick 5 co-workers who will assist you and their careers can change for the better as well. You pick your 5 and coincidentally those 5 are white, but you are satisfied as you know you have the best. Then, he comes in and says he forgot to mention there is a new quota rule and you have to include at least 2 non-whites. You will logically be upset and it won’t benefit you or the 2 whites you have to leave out. A good opportunity for the 2 non-whites but a messy situation, especially if those 2 non-whites are brand new staff and the 2 you left out had 10 years of experience each. Lol, maybe I am going too deep and off point a little.

      I feel it is tough and unfair on the young white people who were not
      even born during Apartheid, to suffer now and be excluded in certain

      But hey, we do live in unique country with a unique past. My example is relevant to a few situations. There are some situations where quotas are implemented but there is no need for it as those non-whites are 100% deserving, which makes me really happy as we kill 2 birds with one stone: we have the best plus they are representative of the nation.

      But thanks again . . .

      Take care!!!

    • Kaybz

      How are quotas a form of racism? Please explain? I do not understand that point at all?

    • dg

      Kaybz, quotas by its very definition are based on race. This is obvious and need I say more? It unfairly goes against the white man. If a white person deserves his/her place but is replaced by someone who doesn’t, in order to fulfill a quota,then this is racial discrimination. Even if the quota player deserves his place, the whole concept is base along racial lines.

    • Renier Gouws


      How can you not see?

    • Steven Benjamin

      Just some corrections:
      Firstly I don’t think Kevin Petersen is a good example. his coaches in natal said that before he left he wasn’t a ‘stand out’ – I think he just blossomed in England because of their “Lack”.
      “The bottom line is that rugby is traditionally a white man’s game and soccer a black man’s sport”
      This (perhaps unintentionally on your part) is both racist and objectively incorrect. They are both sports (from Britain), so by that logic, soccer is also a white sport.
      But, Rugby in the Eastern Cape was introduced by Missionaries and the sport flourished in the black communities in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s.
      In the Western Cape (the oldest Rugby Union, historically), the most “transformed” Union, rugby was played in the non-white communities as much as the white – bearing in mind that the non-white population in WC is greater than the White population. The Western Province Rugby Board was founded in 1886… the SA Rugby board in 1889, and then the SA Colored Rugby Board in 1896 (necessitated due to racial discrimination in the sporting codes). It was the Racist authorities of the time that labeled the sports, and “branded” them as belonging to certain races/cultures.
      Your statement is a reflection of the effectiveness of Apartheid in brain washing people to believe certain things about each other
      Oh, but what about the white boer being bigger and stronger than their non-white counterparts and the traditional mentality of bigger is better… well lets not forget the role that poverty played. The White population, for over a century, had the best of everything the land had to offer.
      SARU even admitted as much when saying a challenge to transformation and raising the level of rugby in black communities are socio-economic problems… something like nutrition at school level to aid in their physical development in impoverished communities. Clinically speaking,the Khoi and San people were smaller in stature, but not the Zulu or Xhosa etc.

      “our cricket and rugby teams have done incredibly well “in spite” of enforced quotas” –
      Regarding the Proteas; at the beginning of his Int career, Hashim Amla was dismissed as a quota player, yet if he was white, his inclusion at senior level would’ve been fast-tracked… this is seen in Rugby too, with many players given ample time at the top level to ‘find their feet’.
      btw (just to throw some more spanners in the works), both Seabelo Senatla & Cheslin Kolbe both starred in the same u21 side that included Pollard, Pieter-Steph Du Toit & Jesse kriel.
      I think what both the public and the ANC (in particular) fails to recognize is that, yes, there is a need for transformation (in sport, society and our thinking), in order to open the doors wider and realize the potential that we have in the country, to produce guys like Makhaya Ntini, Hashim Amla, Kagiso Rabada… & in Rugby the closest comparison is Siya Kolisi (benefiting from a scholarship to Grey High). The failure is at school level.

      All in all though, the best team is often NOT picked, not because of quotas but rather internal politics and every coach having ‘his best’. the Springboks @WC2015 would’ve been better served in taking along Elton Jantjies & Faf De Klerk than Morne Steyn & Rudy Paige.

      Another issue is that the Rugby public in SA is conditioned to see mostly white guys playing rugby, and then to look at non-white rugby players with suspicion.

      The failure of SA Soccer is another issue altogether (and SAFA need to be held accountable).

      One of the reasons this is such a big issue is that “players picked on merit’ means that most of the players are going to be white, because the pool of talent is imbalanced racial/demographically. It’s like grading everyone the same and rewarding the top students, even though the students who didn’t get high grades, weren’t properly educated because of a system that favoured a few… this means that the Springboks simply a refection of the economic divide still present in the country today, and also on point, highlights the failure of the ANC to rectify past problems, so they in are enforcing a papering over of the ills in the education system by parading a diverse Springbok team.

    • dg

      Thanks Steve!