‘Why We Get Excited When Black Athletes Perform Internationally’ By Cheryl Roberts

30 Jan

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As a sports fan, I am always impressed and proud of South Africa’s athletes when they achieve on the international sports circuit. But I’m doubly proud and happy when black athletes achieve commendably and turn in world class performances.

Spectacular international performances by South African sportspeople, particularly black athletes of parents whom never had a chance to play international sport during the apartheid era, give us gratitude and satisfaction to see the children of oppressed sportspeople achieving.

And, it reinforces our belief, argument and advocacy, that blacks must not be discriminated against or overlooked when it comes to selection in sport, because the talent amongst blacks runs very, very deep.

For purposes of this opinion, I mention particularly, the tennis player, Raven Klaasen who reached his first grand slam tennis title at the 2014 Australian Open. Then there’s Marshia Cox, captain of the South African women’s hockey team, who is not only playing at the top of her game but is playing as one of the world’s best hockey players in a hockey festival currently being played in Cape Town.

And then there are the world class performances of Test cricket bowler, Vernon Philander, the international wickets of bowlers, Lonwabo Tsostobe and Rory Kleinveldt.

Klaasen, Cox, Philander, Tsotsobe and Kleinveldt are all children of highly successful and sports achieving parents.

However, they were no ordinary people in sport. The parents of children who are achieving internationally played sport as oppressed South Africans who chose to play sport for freedom, to contribute to the elimination of apartheid. And in doing so, they also didn’t get the opportunity to represent their country. These were the sacrifices made by people who played non-racial, anti-apartheid sport; sportspeople who were in the trenches for freedom from oppression.    

Playing anti-apartheid sport was no easy choice. Our sport was played outdoors on sandy grounds, indoors in small, confined spaces, with limited and inadequate lighting for night training. Non-racial sport had no government funding, no corporate sponsorships, and we had more disadvantaged resources than advantaged arenas of sports wealth. But, the talent of oppressed sportspeople surfaced, right up until the ending of apartheid and sports unity.

Many outstanding black sportspeople could have played international sport and achieve world class standards and titles. However, the horrendous system of apartheid prevented them from realizing and knowing their full sports potential and how they could compete and achieve internationally.

Sports unity and the subsequent demand for transformation in sport didn’t yield comfortably and easily, the results we wanted to see emerging for a non-racial democratic society. We had to fight, challenge and advocate for a better deal; for recognition, support and encouragement of athletes who didn’t have a white skin. This was because in the eyes of white selectors, it was only the white sportspeople who had the ability to play internationally, whilst the black youngsters and adults in sport had to be ‘further developed’.

It’s now over 20 years since we unified sport and began participating internationally. Several black sportspeople have achieved on the international sports stages but we never get tired of generating happiness from their performances.

Especially for those of us who participated in non-racial sport, who sacrificed for a free South Africa and who missed playing international sport, these are the rewards we get from our sacrifices. Klaasen didn’t win the Australian grand slam doubles title, but he’s runner-up placing is sufficient to enhance our pride.

This also applies to sports officials who sacrificed during the anti-apartheid era, gave their personal time without payment, to develop sport amongst oppressed South Africans. Today, several non-racial sport officials and leaders are leading sport in South Africa, Africa and contributing expertise in the world’s sports forums. Some of these officials are Danny Jordaan of SAFA, Haroon Lorgat of CSA, Tubby Reddy, Hajera Kajee and Gideon Sam of SASCOC who developed club sport with no resources but still managed to develop and grow participation numbers in non-racial sport.

When white sports commentators, broadcasters and writers talk and write about South African sport, they emphasise the whiteness of SA sport, they applaud and praise the privileged who benefited from apartheid.

When I write and talk about sport, I never want to forget to applaud those who sacrificed their sports lives and talent for a free South Africa, so children and adults of all colours, could have a chance to play sport and represent a democratic South Africa.

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