Johannesburg - Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula commended the SA Rugby Union (SARU) for taking the lead in fast-tracking transformation in the sport.
"They are the first federation to have taken it upon themselves to convene a transformation indaba," Mbalula said at the SARU indaba here on Tuesday.
"They are the first to admit there are inherently deep-seated weaknesses to realise transformation."
Mbalula said the country had moved at a slow pace in creating a level playing field in sport after 18 years of democracy.
"After 20 years of unity talks, we have seen little fundamental transformation in sport in general and rugby, in terms of participation of players from historically disadvantaged communities," he said.
While he called on rugby leadership to ensure that all South Africans received a fair opportunity to play the sport, Mbalula said transformation should not be trivialised by merely looking at the numbers.
"Today when national teams are selected, the question of colour becomes an issue to a point where it is vulgarised and is reduced to racism," he said.
"It is polarising society, to begin to question a national team on how many black people are there, how many white people are there when the national team represents South Africa as a whole.
"What are our responsibilities as administrators and as the people who run the sport?
"It is to ensure that full transformation is realisable. There must never, in the next 20 years, be a question about the national team."
Mbalula said rugby could become an even stronger global player if it utilised the larger populace.
"Rugby should utilise its full potential by transforming and thus taking advantage of the diverse population of rugby players in South Africa," said Mbalula.
"If this happens there is no doubt that rugby can play an important role in nation building and fostering unity and social cohesion."
Gideon Sam, the president of the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) called on rugby unions and role players in the sport to make transformation a top priority.
“Let transformation not be the poor cousin of all your programmes," Sam said.
"Don’t let it lie down there so that it must come back from time to time to breathe life into it."
Sam said it was important representatives from provincial rugby unions steered transformation to ensure an even playing field in the sport.
SARU chief executive Jurie Roux hoped the two-day indaba would lead to a watershed moment for rugby in South Africa.
The transformation workshop was attended by provincial rugby union presidents and chief executives, SARU management, sports portfolio committee chairperson Richard Mdakane, SASCOC and the sports ministry.
Roux said rugby needed to approach transformation holistically and echoed Mbalula's view that the sport needed to be grown from grassroots levels.
He added that the first step SARU made towards tackling transformation head on was to simplify their transformation charter into an "implementation plan".
"We've gone down to something that is divided into seven dimensions which include preferential procurement, equity employment and addressing the issues of mass participation and broadening the base of rugby," Roux said.
"Because only if you broaden the base of rugby and only if you transform the minds of those individuals that work with our school children can we transform the sport."