When I read Tank Lanning’s column: “Who is the racist now?”, I felt compelled to respond. As an advocate of grassroots transformation and someone who has worked both as a conditioning coach as well as a social justice advocate, I believe I'm uniquely positioned to comment on the subjects of athleticism and racism. As such, I feel that Tank is well off the mark on both counts.
Firstly, his statement "Would it really be so terribly tragic if it turned out that white guys are just better than black guys at rugby" is anecdotal at best.
No evidence exists that white people make better rugby players. The fact is, historically, black players have never been afforded the opportunities that their white counter parts have in South Africa. This is still largely true today. The game in this country remains predominantly exclusive and has not been made consistently available to the broader population. This kind of thinking simply serves to perpetuate the myth that there is a “them and us” when it comes to certain sports.
And this brings me to my second point: one thing that really irks me about a number of my fellow white South Africans is how we still have the audacity to self-define racism. I refer to the term confirmation bias (a tendency to interpret information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions). Tank is certainly guilty of this - defining racism without any acknowledgement of its highest and most insidious form: institutional racism.
In fact, South African rugby is a near-perfect example of institutional, systemic prejudice. Black players are still largely excluded from playing opportunities because of race, class and cultural issues. Opportunities are mostly restricted to players from a few schools, who themselves have benefited from historical, institutionalised bias.
As I've written previously, like Tank, I'm not an advocate of top-down punitive measures to enforce transformation. However, I'm also not going to condone the continued insistence of ignoring well over a century of institutional exclusion.
Those involved in rugby, on all levels, need to take a long hard look at themselves and see if they are still actively contributing to this systemic exclusion, or if they're willing to contribute to some sort of long term solution.
To put this into context, I have seen incredible results in just two years of taking a lead role in the Connect Sports Academy, an elite academy with its roots in Khayelitsha, just outside Cape Town. What started as small venture with a few kids playing touch rugby has already blossomed into something truly remarkable. We partner with big clubs, schools and initiatives in the Cape Town area to provide equal, frequent and competitive playing opportunities for disadvantaged young people and the results speak for themselves.
Our Under 12s were recently part of a team that beat Paarl Boys' High and SACS at a Sevens tournament held at Bishops Prep School, while the U16s are part of a side that has overcome teams from Wynberg Boys’ High and Stellenberg in recent weeks. These are significant victories for children who come from incredibly difficult circumstances. They have proven that with just a little bit of will - coupled with the support of dedicated, conscientious adults - amazing things can be achieved.
Murray Ingram is a strength and conditioning coach with over 15 years’ experience and the director of rugby of the Connect Sports Academy in Khayelitsha
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