Opinion

Selection on merit in sport is not wrong, those who oppose it are

Constitution, and even an ANC proclamation, are opposed to quotas

24 March 2019 - 00:03 By WERNER HUMAN


A recent Sunday Times editorial took issue with a court application by trade union Solidarity that sought the setting aside of provisions of the Transformation Charter and related documents that would constitute "quotas".
The application was perceived as an attempt to preserve "white dominance" in national teams.
Far from that perception, the opposition to quotas is based on legal, moral and factual arguments. It seeks to align governance in South African sport with international codes and practices, to depoliticise our sporting environment and to place a focus on developing real opportunities for players at grassroots level.
Quotas, on the other hand, permeate the view that black players would only be selected once it was forced on sports federations, inherently a motion of no confidence in black players and casting a cynical view on coaches.
To unpack this contentious issue, it is appropriate to refer to the legal framework.
DECLARATIONS AND AGREEMENTS
The essentials of the case are a series of documents: the declaration of the Transformation Indaba, the Transformation Charter following the declaration, the stringent quota requirements for each sport, and the various agreements between the department of sport & recreation and the national sports federations. All seek to enforce quotas.
Two themes arise from the roughly 300 pages of the documents: the government's excruciatingly detailed exposition of the required racial profiling of teams (not limited to the racial composition of teams but also to employed staff) and the stick the department will use to hit sports federations should they not comply.
As to the "stick", the minister may suspend or withdraw funding and the recognition of national sporting bodies, withdraw the opportunity to award national colours and to place an embargo on SA hosting international events.
On the quota system, the department's position is relentless. It states that "the quota system still has a role to play" and "as time goes" merit will be considered "in the long run".
This is a far cry from what the ANC proclaimed in 1971 before the UN Unit on Apartheid, where it was stated without qualification: "Sportsmen have a special duty in this regard in that they should be first to insist on merit, and merit alone, to be the criterion for selecting teams for representative sport."
Ironically, it is precisely this ideal expressed by the ANC - as is also recorded in virtually all international sporting codes - which Solidarity seeks to protect.
The applicable law, however, is unambiguous and direct.
The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination states in article 1(4) that "special measures (may be) taken for the sole purpose of securing adequate advancement of certain racial or ethnic groups . provided that such measures do not, as a consequence, lead to the maintenance of separate rights for different racial groups".
This is consonant with the equality clause (section 9(3)) of the constitution prohibiting unfair discrimination on the basis of race, which we contend quotas do constitute.
Even more to the point, drawing from the constitution, the Employment Equity Act, specifically in section 15(3), permits numeric goals to be set in an employer-employee relationship (which applies to professional sportsmen and sportswomen), but expressly prohibits the use of quotas.
In short, our constitutional framework is not commensurate with the application of quotas.
Essentially, a system of quotas comes down to evaluating a player's worth on the basis of their race. Black players, even if they are undeniably world class, are inevitably ticked off as quotas in a team, carrying the placard of being a quota player. Talented white players are from the word go devalued because a specific quota has to be reached, regardless of the talent that they may show. This may in part explain the exodus of white players in professional sport, particularly rugby.
Having read the above-mentioned documents and attempted to understand the proponents of quotas in sport, we notice two disturbing conclusions.
One, an inherent persuasion that black players are not good enough to be selected on merit, and/or, two, a persuasion that a sinister system is at play to intentionally exclude black players from selection.
On the first point, it is necessary to refer to Solidarity and AfriForum's position in relation to development in sport, which answers both points. It is a fact that not all schools, communities, clubs, and so on, are adequately resourced. The process of identifying and producing talent is impeded if adequate facilities and resources are out of reach for many who wish to compete and have aspirations to represent SA at a national level.
A focus should be on providing the communities in question with adequate resources that will result in a sustainable cycle of talent being produced.
Talent knows no race or creed; if you are a player of talent and capability you ought to be selected. It is this we are campaigning for.
As to the second point, I would like to pose a challenge to the proponents of quota systems. If you are of the view that a sinister system is at play that is designed to exclude talented black players worthy of selection, do support this claim by providing tangible evidence.
If this is shown to be true, it is to be condemned and would need to be addressed. It is indeed an extraordinary claim that needs to be backed up by extraordinary evidence. If found to be true, Solidarity and AfriForum would condemn it in the strongest terms, as this goes against what we are campaigning for.
It is our view that the sporting community, including coaches and staff, care little about engaging in politics. They want to win games and select the best players - black or white.
• Human is deputy CEO of Solidarity. Follow him on Twitter @WernerHuman18

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