Politics and sport are uncomfortable bed fellows but no one can deny that the two are in a relationship, even if it is tumultuous.
On the 25th of April 2016 the Minister of Sport and Recreation, Fikile Mbalula, announced that the athletics, cricket, netball and rugby federations had failed to meet their own transformation targets and would subsequently be denied the privilege of hosting or bidding for major international tournaments. The decision is set to be effective for a period of one year. 12 months.
Congratulations to those sporting codes that are meeting the agreed upon targets. These include: amateur boxing, basketball, football, table tennis, and volleyball.
The minister’s intervention is far milder than what South African sport has dealt with in the past. In 1970 the International Olympic Committee excluded South Africa from international participation. Cricket, netball rugby, soccer, and many other sporting codes were banned from international competitions until the fall of apartheid in the 1990s. Minister Mbalula has merely barred the transgressing sport federations from hosting tournaments. Transformation is largely mandated by the historical realities that saw government interference prohibit black sportspersons from participating as equals on sporting fields.
The reaction to the minister’s announcement was met by a now infamous racist rant by some forgettable fellow. The fragmented opinions that dismiss the minister’s decision, out of hand, without engaging its rationale, must be ignored. A large number of commentators, administrators and sportspeople have come out in support of the minister’s decision. This indicates that many people are not happy with the current status quo.
State of affairs
It is incredulous that less than eleven black African players have represented the Proteas since 1991. Styli Charalambous, writing on enca.com (15 September 2015), highlighted that since re-admission to the international arena, the underwhelming Bafana Bafana has fielded more white players than the Boks and Proteas, combined, have fielded black African players.
The quota system is an emotive topic that people, on all sides of the debate, tend to have firm opinions about. If you administered a survey, asking how many black players are supposed to be in the Boks team, most people would not give the correct answer. I am similarly guilty of not knowing the finer details. Moreover I had never even thought that some of the listed sport federations were non-transformers. Et tu netball!? Rugby committed itself to picking 50% players of colour in their squad by 2019. Cricket has to have 4 of the 11 players be ‘players of colour’ (white is not considered to be a colour). Interestingly the Proteas just recently beat Australia with 8 ‘players of colour’.
Part of the problem is that some people seem to genuinely believe that white people are inherently better players of the various sports. This ideology manifests itself as an argument to keep transformation on hold so ‘we’ can keep winning. This superiority complex manifests itself as the sense of colonial entitlement that is exposed in an unrefined commentary by people who do not even know what the quotas are. Population studies tell us that in this country white people make up less than 10% of potential sport stars and thus more than 90% are black African, coloured or Indian people. Logically transformation should lead to a bigger pool of players, increased competition and subsequently better results.
There is no denying that the quota system will disadvantage certain individuals. The athlete who is (or thinks he or she is) replaced by a quota player will feel aggrieved. Similarly the brilliant player who will become known as a quota player and have his talent questioned will be frustrated. Nonetheless when politics meet sport personal glory takes a back seat and redressing the system takes center stage. If anything the great Muhammad Ali’s anecdote ought to have taught us that.
Catalyse a cycle of winning transformation
It is in the interest of the nation for white sportspeople to learn to deal with their discomfort. If they do not, we will spend the next 300 years trying to transform without upsetting anyone. That level of walking on eggshells achieves nothing but an illusion of a rainbow nation when the storm rages on. The ‘us vs them’ mentality is perpetuated. Instead of seeing transformation as a necessary process to true nation building some people absurdly think it is fine to maintain a monopoly of sporting codes funded with public taxes.
The government contributes handsomely to the financial and logistical demands of international tournaments. The intervention is reasonable. Furthermore the various federations have the opportunity to have the sanction lifted if they meet their own transformation targets.
When it is mandatory to have a certain number of black players it motivates the administrators, in the various sporting codes, to aggressively pursue grassroots level transformation to ensure that the selected players are excellent. This pushes the conversation away from “we do not have enough black talent” to “give us the needed resources to ensure we unearth the talent”. If this means building the physical infrastructure and making scholarships available to black youth in Khayelitsha, Kuruman, Alex and KwaMashu go for it. Government must demand transformation whilst sporting federations must demand adequate government support insofar as infrastructure and resources (management, coaching, sports science…) are concerned. The minister’s report covers transformation targets beyond the national team level and it rightly notes that transformation begins at grassroots level in communities and schools. Simultaneous top-down and bottom-up transformation is the way to go.
We seem to be undermining the psychological importance of seeing someone “like you” doing what you want to do. Black American parents can now tell their children they can be president of the United States of America. Similarly sport stars like Herschelle Gibbs, Caster Semenya, Makhanya Ntini, Breyton Paulse, Bryan Habana, Hashim Amla, and Lucas Sithole enable young aspiring sportspeople to strive to be the very best. Importantly it helps coaches and administrators to vaporize any residual racism they may have that would lead to their non-selection of deserving black players.
My favourite sport quote is attributed to the inimitable Bill Shankly, former Liverpool FC manager, who said “some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very
disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that”. Substitute football with transformation and you begin to appreciate the urgency. In an ideal development South Africa would be at a point where a child’s opportunities to play cricket, netball, soccer, rugby etc. are dependent on the child’s sporting ability, motivation and familial support and not their race, sex, sexual orientation or social class. Until then let us propel transformation.
Ninth Annual Psychology Day at the UN
By Karl Swain and Kirsten Clark
The Ninth Annual Psychology Day at the UN under the theme, “From Vulnerability to Resilience: Using Psychology to address the Global Migration Crisis”, took place on 28 April 2016. The programme this year examined the global migration crisis through Human Rights, Psychological and Intercultural perspectives. For those that may be interested, the full webcast is available at:
World Health Statistics 2016: Monitoring Health for the SDGs
The World Health Statistics series is WHO’s annual compilation of health statistics for its 194 Member States. World Health Statistics 2016 focuses on the proposed health and health-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and associated targets. It represents an initial effort to bring together available data on SDG health and health-related indicators. For more information, see: http://www.who.int/gho/publications/world_health_statistics/2016/en/