Springbok captain Siya Kolisi stirred a social media hornet’s nest this week with his comments in an interview with a Japanese news agency that he is not in favour of a quota system for rugby, where players are picked on the basis of their skin colour.
Predictably, angry revolutionaries accused him of being everything from a coconut (dark on the outside but white on the inside) to a sell-out for allegedly not supporting moves to transform South African sport to make it more demographically representative.
Yet in all the angry knee-jerk dust blown up around his comments, few people really understood what Kolisi was saying.
He said: “I would not want to be picked because of my skin colour because that surely would not be good for the team and the guys around you would know.” He also remarked: “I don’t think he [Nelson Mandela] would have supported that [quotas], but I don’t know him.”
But, Kolisi also got right to the heart of the problem across all South African sporting codes: that if transformation is to be real, then it has to start at grassroots level.
His next comment, while ineffably sad, summed up what young black sportspeople face: “Imagine if I had not gone to an English [high] school. I would not have eaten properly. I would not have grown properly.”
Many potential sports stars in the townships are handicapped by poverty and lack of facilities and coaches.
Putting in quotas at the top end, for national teams, won’t help remedy that.
Before levelling the figurative social playing fields, the country needs to build real fields, with real support, for youngsters.
Only once that is done can South Africa start to realise its potential as a global sporting powerhouse.