/OPINION: Privilege still dominates rugby culture

OPINION: Privilege still dominates rugby culture

2019-10-08 09:14

South African rugby is all about race and privilege perpetuated by stereotypes that assert that only Africans who went to former model C schools are good enough to play, writes Zukile Mazwi.

Culture as defined by Wikipedia is an umbrella term which
encompasses the social behaviour and norms found in human societies, as well as
the knowledge, beliefs, arts, laws, customs, capabilities and habits of the
individuals in these groups.

Culture is everything when it comes to team sport and especially
rugby. The most successful teams always punt the importance of a great culture
to achieve great results. In 1995, when the Springboks won the Rugby World Cup
on home soil, then captain Francois Pienaar commended the culture and unity and
one common goal as the key to their success. Even though he was trying his best
to be politically correct at the time, he touted the Madiba magic as having
played a critical role.

Culture however has a nasty way of encouraging separation
from those who do not share the same beliefs or look different than the majority
who support the culture; this we have seen and heard of in the number of group
attacks instigated by teammates or groups of friends whereby there is always a
need to show allegiance to your own due to the beliefs that you share.

It is no surprise that racism will always be seen as part of
the Springbok team and the rugby playing community in South Africa at large.
Springbok teams continue to use Afrikaans as a medium of communication on the
field; lineout calls as well as general set plays are often communicated in
Afrikaans. Surely such an environment is not accommodating to non-Afrikaans
speakers, especially those of African descent.

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In order for South Africa to have a truly representative
team, the culture of the game as it is needs to be changed. This can be
achieved through the intervention of government in rugby, not to dictate
selection but to impose a framework within which rugby selection processes must
operate. The introduction of the quota system by former SA Rugby boss Brian van
Rooyen et.al. was a great initiative but it was not well accepted by the
Stellenbosch mafia, who continue to dictate what happens in the game.

South African rugby is all about race and privilege
perpetuated by stereotypes that assert that only those Africans who went to former
model C schools are good enough to play, basing their assumptions purely on the
culture in those schools.

At first glance of the so-called “bomb squad
video, I was disgusted because that sort of behaviour is to be expected within
South African rugby circles. I found it very odd that no African player formed
part of that huddle and yet Herschel Jantjies was a foot away from them and
came off the bench as well.

Such behaviour reminded me of stories the late Solly
Tyibilika used to tell us about the environment and attitude of certain players
in the Springbok set up. The culture of racial intolerance in rugby is still
prevalent to this very day. Skilled African players are mostly played out of
position just to frustrate them. Chester Williams was a centre converted to a wing.
Khaya Malotana, a centre, was also played at wing in the 1999 World Cup; JP
Peterson, a fullback converted to wing. Now we see one of the most talented
fullbacks in the world, Cheslin Kolbe also being played at wing.

African players are always expected to keep their opinions to themselves; they are expected to stick to their lane and do as they are told. If it was not
for public pressure and the racial window dressing in the current team, I do
not think Siya Kolisi would be captain. In fact, many are not happy that he is

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Certain high schools are seen as the meccas of South African
rugby; their players always given preference in selection, potentially leaving
out the most talented players. Privilege plays a big role in making it in rugby
which makes it very difficult for those from not so privileged backgrounds and schooling.

The culture of rugby in South Africa is appalling and needs
to be redefined but for as long as we have token blacks such as Mark
Alexander at the helm of SA Rugby, we will not see any change. 25 years into
democracy, SA Rugby is still failing to meet the 50% transformation target.
What a shame!

– Zukile Mazwi is a former rugby player.

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