Nearly two decades after the fall of apartheid, South Africa is still struggling to adjust the complexion of teams in the high-profile, white-dominated sports of cricket and rugby.
Sporting authorities have reintroduced racial quotas for domestic professional teams in a bid to encourage more black players to emerge through the ranks
The latest to adopt quotas is cricket, with the country’s six franchises ordered to field at least one black player in each starting line-up. Teams that field more than one black player will get a cash bonus.
The only black coach among South Africa’s domestic professional teams, Geoff Toyana of the Highveld Lions, backs the idea of quotas.
“It’s not a bad thing, it’s spot-on,” Toyana told reporters. “Hopefully, more players will be exposed and more will play. Hopefully, in the next two to three years, we will see a black African batsman playing for South Africa ... or guys like Mangaliso Mosehle [of the Titans] might come in as a wicketkeeper.”
“You cannot explain that a population of 80 percent black African people cannot produce one Test player, it doesn’t make sense,” Toyana added.
However, he opposes cash incentives and would prefer that money be used to develop sports in townships.
Cricket officials speak of a “huge drop out” of black players between under-19 and franchise levels.
“Black African players need to get quality and meaningful opportunities and, therefore, the incentive-based transformation policy was introduced,” Cricket South Africa general manager Corrie van Zyl told reporters.
However, the restoration of a quota system two decades into democracy is seen by observers as a sign of failure by both sporting administrators and the government to develop sport among previously disadvantaged racial groups.
According to Frans Cronje of the South African Institute of Race Relations, the problem is that “we are not investing in young people.”
Quotas are an ineffective “artificial affirmative action” that “undermines” black players, he said.
“I think it’s a political excuse on the part of sports administrators not to deal with the real issues, which is creating opportunities for young people,” Cronje said.
Yet the blame does not solely rest with sporting bodies, the government has also been accused of not doing enough to develop sports in black public schools.
“How do you think players are going to be produced when the best you produce is a dusty sports field? Unless you learn to bat with a soccer ball in some dust of the Eastern Cape, you are not going to do it,” Cronje said.
Only five black athletes have played for South Africa’s national cricket side since 1991, when the country was accepted into international competitions.
“It is not a statistic that we are proud of,” Van Zyl said. “It shows just how important it is for us to bring many more [black] African players through the system.”
“Next year, we celebrate 20 years of democracy in our land and it is simply not acceptable for 80-plus percent of the population not to feel represented in one of our national sides,” he added.
Previously, racial quotas generated heated debate in South Africa, but now there appears to be a general consensus.
The majority of players accept that “transformation is imperative,” South African Cricketers’ Association CEO Tony Irish said.
A quota system was introduced in 1999, but scrapped in 2007. Blacks remain underrepresented in cricket and rugby, but dominate in soccer, where South Africa is not faring well.
The latest round of quota systems were adopted at a 2011 meeting of all sporting bodies and the government.
Rugby quotas will take effect next year and seven players in each 22-man Vodacom Cup — a second-tier competition below the Currie Cup — squad must be black, including at least two forwards.
Although the move has brought into question the possibility of sidelining other racial groups — namely Coloureds (mixed race) and Indians — Van Zyl said the early attempt at quotas was “a huge success” for the development of Coloured and Asian cricketers.
However, Anton Alberts of the small white opposition party Freedom Front Plus said he thinks imposing “race quotas is a step backward.”