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 ultimately 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 non-white players and afford them opportunities. A worthy initiative that was met with mixed reactions and sparked debate and has meandered on through the decades into the 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 non-white 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 (CSA) has given birth to a new quota system whereby each team has to include six players of colour. Standards will inevitably drop. Even if a non-white 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 that contains only six players of colour 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 non-white 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 non-white 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?  

If all 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. But quotas on the other hand, simply leave a sour taste in the mouth for all concerned, even those benefiting from it. Only individual sports such as golf and swimming 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 writer who has written for The Post; Sport24; Galaxy News; The Witness and SAFA.

* The original version of this article has been updated (2021) to be more reflective of South Africa’s diverse non-white races.


Reader Blog

Reader Blog

On our Reader Blog, we invite Thought Leader readers to submit one-off contributions to share their opinions on politics, news, sport, business, technology, the arts or any other field of interest. If...

20 replies on “Why quotas in South African sport must fall”