Cape Town - Former Springbok wing Tonderai Chavhanga has penned a column on transformation in South Africa sport.
I still cannot fathom out why the word transformation is viewed as some kind of swart gevaar (black danger) and as if rugby/sport would be devalued if there was more representation from players of colour. In my view Transformation means equal opportunity. If anything, the more players of colour on the field the more buy in and embrace from all South Africans, and in turn the more revenue the sport would make.
The Stormers and WP rugby have been the best supported franchise by people of colour because their teams have consistently picked players of colour.
Based on their performance, one can only assume that the selection was on merit, and granted, they have tremendous depth amongst players of colour in the region. In 2014 the Sharks were the most supported South African super rugby side by black people because Jake White consistently selected players of colour.
Whilst I may not fully agree with Minister Mbalula's decision to ban the various sports governing bodies from bidding for any international events, I am left wondering how else will we see talented players of colour coming through?
Many players of colour went through various programs like Spoornet, Green and Gold squads, etc.
These programs' purpose was to identity talented future stars and equip them for a future as professional rugby players but majority of players never made it all the way.
Above all these programs we have had incredibly talented young players of colour coming through Craven Week and age group structures year in and year out, but somehow they seem to get lost in the system and never make it all the way.
Is it through their own demise, did they peak to soon, were they simply not good enough or were they overlooked?
We need a set criteria to evaluate this conundrum.
Do many Black players who excel at lower levels in school or university, due to speed and agility, fall short in the modern game because generally they are smaller, and if so, how can we develop this aspect of their physicality?
On the other hand small players like Breyton Paulse and Brent Russell wore the Springbok jersey with great distinction, in Super Rugby we have seen Damian McKenzie (80kg) leading the competition in tries, most running metres, most tackle busts, most clean line breaks and I must add that the All Blacks picked Nehe Milner-Skudder who is also a small player but was one of their standout performers.
So is size a valid criteria in all instances, or one aspect in certain instances?
When I look at all the players of colour that have put on that Bok jersey I cannot think of any player that did not make his country proud.
No player of colour wants to be labelled as a "quota" so when selected, players of colour give their everything to earn the respect of their peers and fans.
Above the pressure that players of colour put on themselves to perform they have to deal with lots of external pressures, because as a representative player you simply cannot afford a bad day at the office, not that I am implying that white players do not have pressure.
The second question is are all players performance are evaluated the same?
Players of colour and all players, regardless of colour, must be given equal opportunity to stake their claim and I believe that's what the goal of transformation is, and not to just throw players in for the sake of numbers.
In my view transformation means equal opportunity and the only way this can be resolved is for a panel of very experienced and knowledgeable rugby coaches and ex-players to get together to determine the selection criteria of a player and all the attributes required to qualify in each position.
If this is set, then players and fans will be able to know that comparing apples for apples they were the best option.
Do we have a set criteria, or is this left to the coach and selectors on the day?
If the criteria is set in stone, then it is easier to understand and comprehend. Then no one can argue if a player is selected regardless if they are black or white.
After all, we need to have the best team on the park on any day.
Equal opportunity should be determined by skill and talent, not colour.
The sheer numbers will eventually determine where the majority talent comes from, provided the sport is made accessible to the masses.
As much as its important to put more emphasis on marketing and growing the game at grassroots level we also need to make sure that the great talent that shines and comes through Craven Week and all the age group structures is nurtured and harnessed.
It's through transformation that not only South Africa but the world has been thoroughly entertained by the special talents of Chester Williams, Breyton Paulse, Ashwin Willemse, Bryan Habana, Ricky Januarie, Tendai "Beast" Mtawarira and so forth.
We have more exciting young guys coming through that I believe if given the chance they would thrive on the international stage such as Jantjies, Galant, Notshe, Skosan, Mnisi, Ntubeni, to mention a few.
The real issue and bottom line is that in order for the game to grow we need to make it accessible to everyone and whilst SuperSport has put in a tremendous amount of money and great initiatives to grow the game, the reality is that as long as SuperSport has exclusive rights to broadcast rugby on its channel, rugby will never be accessible to the general public who happen to be Black (±95% of the population?).
Rugby has to find its way on to a Free to Air channel, and not be governed by the size of the cheque!
A TV audience analysis on youth rugby viewers was conducted by Repucom and here are some of the findings: Live Springbok games on SuperSport had 1.21m viewers of the unique viewers under 19-years-old compared to delayed Springbok games on SABC which had 3.51m viewers.
On SuperSport only 18% of its total viewers were under 19-years-old and SABC had 30% of its total unique viewers under the ages of 19.
The numbers don't lie and there is clearly a hunger for the general public to watch rugby and I hope SuperSport and SABC can come up with some sort of an agreement to show more rugby to South Africans that cannot afford to pay for DSTV.
You may be wondering why I am dragging SuperSport into the transformation debate but I believe it's imperative for rugby to be accessible to all people whether that be on TV or on the playing field.
"At a crossroads moment in South Africa's history Tata Madiba used rugby as a catalyst for social cohesiveness, and we need to be very careful that we don't use this very sport to divide and polarise each other".
This column first appeared in Die Burger newspaper