By: LEMBEDE JANTJE
Jake White recently wrote in his column for All Out Rugby that Springbok coach, Rassie Erasmus, should front a predominantly black side to play in Washington against the Welsh in their upcoming gone off encounter. This controversial remark has got many rugby fans talking about exactly how White thinks this will work.
Ollie le Roux, former Springbok prop, says that White’s idea is a “sharp but racist idea”. The idea is of course racist, and sharp, as it pierces through the hearts of competent black professionals and shreds it apart while it surpasses incompetent white professionals.
Many have said that politics must be kept out of rugby, yet it is sentiments like White’s that drag us into the realms of politicizing rugby and sports in general. Inevitably we therefore cannot divorce politics from sports for it is an uncomfortable marriage to which we as ordinary South Africans are beneficiaries. In a normal society there would not be a need to discuss race in relation to sports, but as we have inherited the atrocious and unbearable fruits of this marriage from our past, we have no option but to confront White’s scheme.
After White’s article was published, there were those who understandably but naively thought that his views on rugby are infallible. They are wrong. In fact, White’s article heading should have read “Pick black semi boks to rest real Springboks”. A closer look at his proposal reveals a litany of malicious intent with which this proposal was generated.
Thando Manana, a former Springbok himself, accordingly takes exception to White’s sentiments when he says that he is “not impressed by the thought process” behind White’s nefarious scheme. It seems to me that, according to White’s scheme, black players are to be rewarded in a different way than their white counter parts. Indeed this scheme would be the desirable approach that would be acceptable to South Africans provided it were based not on reserving meaningless games for blacks and worthy games for whites. Thus the meaningless games would seemingly be used as an entry point for black competent professionals into the main or real springbok team.
White reveals that given the extraordinary circumstances Erasmus finds himself in, which is to inter alia pick a team to play at a game that falls outside of the official window wherein foreign based players are unlikely to be released, Erasmus must pick a predominantly black team. This is according to him what “creates depth and playing opportunities” for black players. It is strange that the commitment to this noble objective finds expression mainly when there is an inordinate situation during which the main players’ availability cannot be secured. Therefore, when there are such matches that fall outside of the window, it is the apposite time to deal with black players’ special needs through the “creation of depth and playing opportunities”.
White then reveals the purpose of picking an all-black team under these circumstances is for “banking transformation credits to create selection breathing room for the England series”. With black players being selected for the Welsh game, there will not be as much pressure to comply with transformational targets by playing as many blacks in the England series. Their participation in one meaningless game would have sufficed and thus relinquished pressure from Erasmus of having to unnecessarily consider blacks who have had their chance. This is a pleasant way of telling black players that they are not worthy of being considered for the big meaningful games. A euphemism at its best.
This scheme is something that has to be cautioned against as it regularizes many stereotypes and biases towards certain race groups. According to White, it is through these games that black players are going to get a chance to put their hands up. It’s rarely if not at all mentioned in this grand plan as to whether white counter parts are also to be subjected to the same international try outs. This is the case because according to White, black players are in need of a special skills programme or try outs which their white counter parts are not in need of. Therefore these try outs would be used to scout the scouted, because these players are seemingly already good enough to play the best that Australia and New Zealand have to offer on a weekly basis. They are to be scouted for a second time as they need to still prove that they have what it takes to play for the real Springboks.
This creation of an extra trial platform cannot be acceptable, as it is meant to be a scheme to overlook black players. The most probable thing to happen here is that when these black players lose such games, the coach will simply use that as a form of reference as to the black player’s readiness. Reasons that are likely to lead to a loss of such games like players having had little time to gel and sort out their combinations are likely to be overlooked. When this happens and players are constantly omitted from the starting line up or from the squad as a whole, black players will begin to doubt their capabilities and worth in this country. They will internalize that they are just not good enough because this system that White seeks to rubber stamp will ultimately demotivate black players.
White must stop treating black players as people that need special guidance purportedly because of their supposed inability to adjust to the fast paced international scene. This is a bad trajectory that reinforces many stereotypes about black professional’s competence. Therefore the proposal put forward by Jake White is of such antiquity that it must be rejected on that account alone.