Johannesburg - There are less black players in the professional system now than there were when quotas were enforced in the sport, and the South African Rugby Union could simply not sit by and allow the decline to continue.
According to the supersport.com website, SARU president Oregan Hoskins said there simply was no other alternative to speed up transformation in the sport than to bring back “measured targets” for next year’s Vodacom Cup competition.
All 14 provincial teams will be required to pick a minimum of seven black players in their match-day squads, two of whom must be forwards. A minimum of five black players will be required to start in next year’s competition.
Hoskins said that rugby doesn’t want to go back to the quota system, and that SARU had to act pro-actively to ensure the rate of transformation continued at a pace that everyone was comfortable with.
“We certainly don’t want to go back to the quota system,” Hoskins told supersport.com, “We saw the negatives of that, but we must acknowledge the valid criticism that since the quota system has been scrapped, we have gone backwards in terms of black players in the system. We have to do something drastic to rectify this decline or we would be failing ourselves as a system.
“We will be opening ourselves up to outside intervention. Quotas were scrapped 10 years ago and there was a lot of negativity around the system then. But we have to be brutally honest with ourselves and say that since scrapping quotas, our transformation drive has declined inexplicably and we have to capture that decline. We simply cannot allow it to continue.”
While some people may be shocked about the return to the targets set for sides in the Vodacom Cup competition, Hoskins believes this is just taking decisions from the much-publicised transformation forum that SARU had last year a step further.
“We had a big transformation workshop last year where all the provinces all agreed to targets for all teams. We looked at those targets with the understanding they are set to be increased every year,” Hoskins explains.
“We’ve been falling behind in terms of those targets in terms of all teams. We decided that the Vodacom Cup was a starting point to ensure we implement those targets. We had agreed to targets that translate to around 33 or 35 percent and these are simply being agreed into action in the Vodacom cup.”
Hoskins said the move was started by a “president of a northern union” who approached him to table the motion as there was concern that targets weren’t being met.
“We discussed this at the transformation committee and at the executive council and then on Tuesday the Presidents forum again voted on it and said, let’s do it! It is a leap of faith and there are few hiccups that we will encounter along the way. That is why we declined to go with hard and fast penalties. We understand that in certain provinces there are bona fide issues and the situation differs from province to province.
“There will of course be challenges from weekend to weekend but as a principle this is a good stand to take. If you look at the talent from the Varsity Cup that has filtered into Currie Cup teams, players have been exposed with a different level and adapted well. The opportunity is now for club players of all colours to be exposed to the Vodacom Cup level and take that step up. My hope and dream is that we find some unpolished diamonds in the process.”
The SARU president did admit that the proposal passed by a “slim majority” with a number of unions opposed to it. But those opposed to it had more “logistical” concerns, according to Hoskins, than problems with the concept.
“The good thing is that this isn’t a top-down quota system. It has worked through all the necessary forums and the majority are in favour of it. Those not in favour of it, were still in favour of speeding up transformation, but had questions about the implementation of it. They were scared it would be costly and that they might not find the players. They were scared about the logistical implementation, but they still supported the principle.”
There was a suggestion that the northern provinces should have a lower quota than the coastal provinces, but this was rejected by the Presidents forum.
After the meeting, Jurie Roux, CEO of SARU, said that no sanctions had been specified, should a province fail to select the required numbers of black players. He said the question and other operational matters around the policy would be addressed by the Games and Policy committee in due course.
The tournament runs from March to April and, since its introduction, has been the competition in which virtually all Springboks have made their senior provincial debut.