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Transformation: lost in translation

27 June 2014 - 02:16 By Simnikiwe Xabanisa

If ever there was an explanation for why South African rugby has wrestled unsuccessfully with transformation, an article in one of the daily newspapers gave the answer this week.

On Monday, Afrikaans newspaper Beeld led with a story quoting South African Rugby Union president Oregan Hoskins as saying he had encouraged or instructed Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer to pick more black "African" players for Saturday's Test against Scotland.

On the face of it, one of the top two officials in South African rugby put his foot down for transformation, while a newspaper dutifully reported a turn of events that had a faint whiff of a Bok coach being told who to pick by a suit.

But the cynics among us may have seen a career rugby politician trying to score cheap political points when he knew Meyer would have fielded more black players against a supposedly weak Scotland anyway.

The newspaper was merely whipping its Afrikaans readers into a frenzy over yet another example of "die swaart gevaar" taking over their precious sport, and scoring handsomely in sales in the process.

AfriForum, which reacts indignantly whenever someone else actually says or does something, waded in and threatened to do something it probably won't.

To gain an insight into why AfriForum getting involved is a non-story, consider that it is an organisation that sounds suspiciously like an apartheid apologist yet calls itself a civil rights movement.

The long-winded point I'm making is we're all disingenuous in how we approach the critical issue of transformation. Instead of honestly trying to solve a problem, we spend too much time trying to be too clever by being politically correct, and the message gets lost in translation.

One sees it in Saru, the provincial unions, the coaches, the players, the media and both sides of the fence in the general rugby public.

Forget that transformation appears to be an electioneering hot potato, as opposed to a policy at Saru, and look at their latest intervention with their reluctant unions.

They decided each union's Vodacom Cup side would field five black players in their starting line-ups, which, typically, had AfriForum up in arms about boycotting stadiums.

What most forgot was that the Vodacom Cup is a distant third when put up against Super rugby and the Varsity Cup in terms of following, meaning said "transformation" is literally happening in the dark.

The point I'm making is that valid risk needs to be attached to trying out these weird and wonderful ideas, meaning Super rugby and Currie Cup would be a more suitable platform for testing everyone's seriousness.

A few years ago, it emerged that the Cheetahs paid Robert Ebersohn more than Lionel Mapoe when they'd both achieved the same in the game. Yet there was no transparent investigation into whether that was a general practice among the unions.

Coaches are also complicit in that they are content to play black players when there is no real pressure.

A recent example is how South Africa Under-20 coach Dawie Theron played a smattering of black players in the recent Junior World Championship opener against a weak Scotland, and went rather white in his selections in the subsequent must-win games.

Players pick up on that stuff and use it to their benefit. In a situation like that, an average white player might make more of a racket about being overlooked for a "quota", while an average black player is given an opening to complain of being victimised.

The media has shed no understanding by lazily writing about transformation from whatever side of the fence they supposedly lie on.

Consequently, we've created an environment where it's become fine for the general rugby public to dismiss a black player on account of being black. It's not communicated as such because people reach for the "too small" excuse when they really mean too black.

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