Cape Town - The crude, demented nature of apartheid as it
affected sport was never more forcibly highlighted than in what became known
internationally as the Basil D'Oliveira affair - precipitated by the decision
of JB Vorster's racist Nationalist party regime to veto the inclusion of
talented South African-born Cape Coloured Basil D'Oliveira in the England team
for a tour to his homeland in 1968.
It resulted in England cancelling the tour and heralded the
growing isolation of South Africa from international sport that ultimately
played a significant role in the dismantling of apartheid.
With the creation of a democratic South Africa under the
wise council and direction of Nelson Mandela in 1994 it was assumed that racism
in sport would systematically become an odious memory of the past, with
political interference no longer playing a part.
Not so it would seem - and while it is more misguided and
piloted by egoistic considerations now than motivated by the racist malice of
the past, it is creeping back again.
Take, for example, the goings-on of the past week when it
was forgotten that contrary to the starry-eyed proposition often propagated
that transformation in South African sport is an overnight exercise, it is one
that should be imbued with delicacy and a fine sense of judgement.
Emphasising a lack of these ingredients was the
controversial pronouncement made by Minister of Sport Fikile Mbalula that he is
"barring" South African rugby, cricket, netball and athletics
organisations from staging international tournaments in the country for failing
to meet their transformation quotas.
At the same time, Mbalula exempted SAFA because according to
a curiously-named elite commission of 13 gentleman he had appointed to
investigate the issue, the controlling body of South African soccer had made
sufficient progress with transformation.
Mbalula, one suspects, does not have the legal authority to
bar rugby, cricket, netball and athletics from staging international
tournaments in the country, only to withdraw all government support and place
other virtually insurmountable obstacles in the way of any such undertakings.
But, notwithstanding this, the ironical anomaly that has
emerged from Mbalula's action is that South African soccer, while satisfying
the Minister of Sport and the elite 13 gentlemen - a number of whom have only a
distant connection to sporting matters - is lagging substantially behind rugby,
cricket, netball and athletics in their international achievements and
recognition over the period in question.
Not only is South Africa ranked around a modest 70s in FIFA's
world rankings, but even in the African context the country is positioned
around an unflattering 15th place on the continent.
What is more, the indignity of probably failing to quality
for next year's African Nations Cup soccer tournament in Gabon is staring SAFA
uncomfortably in the face.
Because cricket, rugby and even netball are not world sports
to the extent of soccer, it is easier for South African teams to shine in these
respective codes and it is fair to remind all and sundry that the results of
transformation do not emerge with the effect of Aladdin rubbing a magical
Still, there it is on the table. Transformation correct
South African soccer is lagging in achievements behind rugby, cricket, netball
and athletics, who have not met their transformation commitments.
And make of that what you wish as politics creeps back into
South African sport.
As for the gifted and gracious D'Oliveira, whose parents
were of Indian and Portuguese origin and who only went on to represent England
with conspicuous success because his own country deprived him of this right, he
may well be turning in his grave over the re-emergence of political