After 20 years of freedom, our national rugby and cricket bodies are still utilising a limited portion of the available talent pool, but the raging argument over how many people of each colour should be forced into SA teams does more harm than good.
In 2011 the National Sports Plan was compiled, and a key aspect of the NSP is the ongoing need for transformation in a continuous effort to right the wrongs of our racist, patriarchal history.
In line with the transformation agenda laid out in the NSP, Fikile Mbalula formed the Eminent Persons Group on Transformation to gauge the progress over the last two decades and monitor the process going forward.
After gathering information and data from five of the country’s most popular sporting codes, the EPG discovered that all of them had reached the long-term target of 50% black representation across the board.
That done, the EPG took the process a step further and stretched the target to 60%, an obvious move which can have no negative effect on our sporting ability as a nation and can only improve our chances of competing on an equal footing against the best in the world.
Mbalula has repeatedly used the word “quota”, but it’s important to note the word used in the EPG report is “target”, which is vastly different.
At no point since receiving the report has Mbalula given deadlines for national teams to have 60% black representation, and as such, quotas have not been reintroduced.
His choice of words is seemingly nothing more than a political grandstand ahead of elections.
He has, however, clearly stated that if no progress is shown within the next year, the guilty federations will be punished, while EPG member Willie Basson says they are hoping to hit the new target within the next 10 or 15 years.
The EPG report is mostly positive, indicating that we have reached a long-term target as a nation, but it also reveals that we have a long way to go to widen our talent pool and provide opportunities to everyone in our society.
The new target, however, is not only set for national teams, as was the case with previous narrow-minded approaches, but more importantly focuses on school, club and provincial level across all age groups.
Quotas place unwanted burdens on our national selectors and can be destructive.
It seems obvious, however, that the wider the nation’s sporting reach, the more talent will be unearthed and the stronger our national teams will become.
The answer to the problem does not lie in national team selections, but rather at grassroots level, with children in rural and underdeveloped areas in need of decent sporting facilities and proper coaching.
And the question is not whether international performances will be improved if everyone is given equal opportunity.
The only debate should revolve around how we get there.