Why Do Whites Oppose Quotas In Sport But Remain Silent About Sport’s Inequalities?  By Cheryl Roberts

29 Jul

'south african sport', published in november 2013. published by cheryl roberts in cape town, south africa


Whenever a quota system is announced for sport, whites react fast, furiously and angrily. Yet, whites never react similarly to the inequalities in sport, white dominance and control of the sports wealth, and white preferences in team selection. This angry white reaction is clearly depicted in some sections of the media who present quotas as negative and discriminating against whites in sport. White media representatives go crazy when there’s a hint of a quota mention; they react swiftly to inform white people they will be blocked or cut off from representation by quota numbers. However, this very mischievous media doesn’t inform whites their time is up for privileges to be all theirs and that South Africans must have opportunities.

Why do whites as a group representation get angry whenever quotas in sport are mentioned? And why do whites, who have access to the sports wealth and their privileged class positions, not also react angrily and fiercely to the colour and gender inequalities in sport? There are so few black women in Team SA, whilst there are far more white women. Yet, the same whites who boldly challenge quotas, never fiercely attack gender inequalities.  

Soon after sports unity was sealed in various boardrooms, about two decades ago, in the largely white controlled and dominated sports of rugby and cricket and netball, a litany of battles ensued to get black players recognised as quality players, worthy of provincial and international selection. Black rugby, netball and cricket players have always had to struggle and do everything right at their first opportunity of representation, or else face the prospect of being dropped and non-selection because they would have been deemed as not being ready for international play.

Had it had not been for strong challenges from the bold voices within sport, who stood their ground and demanded black players be recognized and selected, several black players would not have been selected and gone on to achieve internationally.

Emerging from our horrendous past of apartheid and structural discrimination and racism, the scars of white superiority and discrimination on race still impact immensely on our non-racial, democratic South Africa. And this is clearly reflected in sport where a significant percentage of whites have the thinking that white people in sport have supreme ability, above black players.

From about 20 years ago, the quota system in sport was instrumental and much needed at a crucial turning point in the South African sports paradigm. Its pivotal challenge was to force coaching and selection committees and officials to take off their blinkers and see beyond white ability. Starring at the coaches and selectors were talented and emerging black players, screaming for recognition of their talents. Yet white selectors an coaches kept insisting that black players were still developing and needed to be nurtured, whilst young white players were not seen as needing development.

Today, we are still asking why is the Springbok squad white dominated? Why does netball not represent all colours of women players? And Bafana only made of African players? Why can’t an African cricketer get to play Test cricket on a consistent basis? South Africa’s senior swimming teams, for the past two decades, are embarrassingly white. Its not that blacks can’t swim because blacks do swim and have been champion swimmers. Go through the records of non-racial, anti-apartheid swimming and you will see the recorded results of black swimmers in South Africa.

We must consistently pressurize for transformation of the sport network; dominance of sport should not be held by the control of an elite group.

White group representatives like AfriForum are very quick to denounce quotas in sport and advocate an immediate challenge. But then again, this reaction is expected because groups like AfriForum exist to protect white interests in SA; they clearly don’t exist to protect disadvantaged, under-resourced townships and working class communities nor black people.

South African sport, in its entirety, must be engaged in transformation. Most importantly, this transformation narrative must be understood. Transformation must not be viewed as an instruction or painstaking journey. Transformation of sport must be embraced with sincerity and endorsed with honestly by all involved in the sports network.

Transformation is not only about colour! It’s about eliminating gender, class and colour inequalities and discrimination. And, transformation is not only about the sport of rugby being thrashed for not being representative, but all sports being transformed.

Transformation of sport in South Africa must not be frowned upon or seen as a negative pathway. Transformation is about changing from our horrendous inequalities, moving away from our society of neglect of working class and disadvantaged communities. It’s about being aware how white wealth and black middle class privilege benefits participation in sport; that those with access to resources and money have much more chances and opportunities to participate in sport and achieve.

Most imperatively, we must understand that transformation unlocks our sports talent. By creating and opening avenues of access to participation in sport, the base of talent is opened. When we seen white dominated sports and representative teams, we must never believe that whites are supremely talented above all other colours of people. We must see this as reflection that whites have access to participate in most sports and get to represent in theses sports.

At the time of writing this, Team SA had a medal haul of 24 at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Nearly all medals were won by white athletes and teams representing SA. Thankfully, the rugby 7’s team won the gold medal and this achievement added players of all colours.

We must keep questioning and challenge how best to transform and radically change the sports paradigm to benefit South Africa’s people. Debates, discussions and conversations must be ongoing amongst sport leadership and officialdom. And black officials must not relax when they assume a position or get an international ticket somewhere. Black officials come from disadvantaged communities and must challenge our sports network when it fails to provide for black sports people.

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