Posts Tagged ‘Siya Kolisi’

Give Allister and Stick a sporting chance

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THE appointment of Allister Coetzee and Mzwandile Stick to the Springbok team represents an opportunity to align rugby with contemporary SA. Let’s not blow it.

Both bring considerable social and political capital. Each has proved himself to be a game-changer. At Western Province, Coetzee showed that you could field a team with eight or nine players of colour and still be the best in the country. In his eight years at the helm, he led the Stormers to the top of the South African conference three times, and won the Currie Cup twice.

Almost half the players in Stick’s Under-19 team, which went on to win the Under-19 Currie Cup, were black, most of them from the Eastern Cape.

Neither came from a culture that privileged whiteness, and they gave the lie to the prevailing wisdom in parts of South African rugby: that black players weaken a team and are the tax you pay to appease the politicians.

Stick grew up in a Port Elizabeth township with a mother who frequently struggled to put food on the table. He attended the local township school, and yet still managed to make it to the top, captaining the Sevens team that won the World Series title in 2008-09.

Coetzee grew up in Grahamstown. He has a vivid memory of watching white boys at nearby Kingswood College play rugby with the best equipment, while he had to walk to the much poorer coloured school down the road. His father died while he was very young and his mother struggled to provide for him and his three siblings.

 

 

ALTHOUGH a talented and ambitious scrumhalf, his race precluded him from playing for SA.

Stick and Coetzee reflect the tough life experiences common to the majority of South Africans, and their elevation to the upper echelons of the game must make it seem much more accessible than it has in the past.

Neither has a chip on the shoulder, or sees himself as a victim. Their victory against the odds they were born into shows character and emotional resilience.

These qualities came in handy when dealing with their respective managements.

Stick answered to the deeply dysfunctional Eastern Province Rugby Union, and Coetzee endured eight years of frequently erratic and interfering management under the Western Province Rugby Union.

But the pressures on the Springbok coach, in particular, are way more intense and, without proper support, Coetzee will struggle.

The South African Rugby Union (Saru) has done well to appoint Coetzee and Stick. But it now needs to prove that this is not window-dressing. It needs to give their new Bok coach all the resources he needs to succeed. Otherwise, his appointment will be seen to be a cynical one, setting him up to fail.

Similar privileges to those accorded to Heyneke Meyer would be a good start.

Saru forked out substantial sums at the start of Meyer’s tenure to enable him to bring his own management team from the Bulls. He was then allowed to add more coaches, such as breakdown specialist, Richie Gray.

As yet, Coetzee does not appear to be similarly indulged. There is no evidence that he has picked any members of the team announced on Tuesday.

Given that he has already been disadvantaged by being appointed three-and-a-half months late, Saru needs to do all it can to help him, otherwise it risks being accused of not giving the same opportunities to a black coach as it gave to a white, Afrikaans one.

The corporate world should come to the party: any new sponsorship deals should be predicated on better governance, which would include equal opportunity for all employees, regardless of colour.

There has been talk of the Super Rugby coaches forming a Bok “selection committee”. This must be rapidly scotched. Meyer fought for — and won — the right to have ultimate say over selection. Rightly, he argued that if he were to be held responsible for winning every game, he needed to be able to pick his team.

The Super Rugby franchises need to play their part and put petty provincial rivalry aside.

The initiative introduced in Meyer’s term of systematically resting key Springbok players during Super Rugby must be continued.

Super Rugby coaches should also give more players of colour some proper game time to increase the pool available to Coetzee.

Fans need to give the new coaching team the benefit of the doubt. A bit of generosity of spirit would go a long way. Fans, particularly those who flock to Ellis Park for the iconic All Black derbies, should learn the first verses of the national anthem so that we are no longer subjected to the dramatic amplification of sound when English and Afrikaans verses are sung. It’s not that difficult. Make an effort.

 

 

DESPITE the autumn chill in the air, there is a sense of spring-time, of new beginnings, about rugby. Unlike Meyer, who looked to seasoned troops right from the start of his campaign, Coetzee will have to start afresh. Most of last year’s team have either retired, are approaching retirement, or are playing abroad.

This should not be a problem for Coetzee, who has proved that he is happy to trust youngsters.

Stick is something of a specialist in turning rookies into stars, given his track record with the Eastern Province Under-19s.

Transformation, which is viewed as a burden by Meyer, will come naturally to Coetzee.

At the Stormers, Coetzee displayed the ability effortlessly to forge racially and culturally diverse teams. Boys of colour were given every opportunity, but so were white players. Schalk Burger, Jean de Villiers, Eben Etzebeth flourished in his time, as did Siya Kolisi, Scarra Ntubeni, and Nizaam Carr.

There is a good chance that, with Coetzee and Stick at the helm, the sense of marginalisation that has plagued black Springboks will be a thing of the past. Under Meyer, Afrikaans was used for team talks, which was alienating for black players. The new Bok set-up hopefully will better reflect our diversity of languages.

Stick’s Under-19s also brought a vibrant culture from their Eastern Cape schools — with traditional isiXhosa war and struggle songs borrowed from their elders.

Some infusion of this into Bok culture could only enrich it.

• McGregor is author of Springbok Factory: What it Takes to be a Bok, and a visiting researcher at the Institute for the Humanities in Africa at the University of Cape Town.

* This column first appeared in Business Day

 

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THE appointment of Allister Coetzee and Mzwandile Stick to the Springbok team represents an opportunity to align rugby with contemporary SA. Let’s not blow it. Both bring considerable social and political capital. Each has proved himself to be a game-changer. At Western Province, Coetzee showed that you could field a team with eight or nine […]

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A tale of two would-be Springboks: Johannes and Fikile

News | Non Fiction | South Africa | Uncategorized Comments Off

NO LESS a figure than Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has weighed in on the rugby transformation debate.

In a letter to the Cape Times, written as the Springboks were preparing to take on Argentina in Salta last month, Tutu remarked that it was “particularly hurtful” to see the selection of black players as “peripheral squad members never given the chance to settle down and earn their spurs”.

“Now, 20 years later, I lament the tortoise pace at which transformation at the highest level is being effected.”

The country, he wrote, deserved a Springbok team that was representative of the “full spectrum of the rainbow that defines us — not on the basis of quotas or affirmative action or window-dressing, but on merit and for our long-term wellbeing as a nation”.

Tutu is entirely correct in lamenting the paucity of black Springboks and, as spiritual successor to Nelson Mandela, his words carry particular weight.

But I’m not sure they make a useful contribution to a debate that has become shallow and polarised. With accusations as serious as racism being bandied about, the South African Rugby Union is becoming increasingly paranoid and defensive. The government, under pressure from its own constituency, issues threats. Coaches, already under intense pressure to win no matter what is thrown at them, feel under siege. Racial quotas result in black boys from poor areas becoming commodities, bought by richer schools to bring up their numbers — and then ruthlessly discarded if they lose form.

A proper debate needs to be opened up about the role of rugby in SA which takes into account the fact that it cannot be separated from the ecosystem in which it operates. It can be argued, for instance, that the Springbok team is mostly white because, even in 2014, SA still affords white people the best chance of fulfilling their potential: and not only in sport.

We know that we live in the most unequal society on earth, with the biggest gap between rich and poor anywhere in the world. And the post-apartheid dispensation has only increased the concentration of wealth in the upper echelons.

Figures released by Stats SA earlier this year show that the poorest households are black and headed by women. Black rugby talent is largely concentrated in the Eastern Cape. Stats SA revealed that, in the Buffalo City metro, for instance, 45.8% of households are female-headed. Only 52.6% have piped water into their homes.

Almost one in five live below the poverty line.

Poverty follows a child from such a home — let’s call him Fikile — to school: where he is likely to encounter inadequate buildings, poorly motivated and educated teachers, little or nothing in the way of sporting or training facilities. It’s likely to be a non-fee-paying school, so operating with minimal resources.

No matter how talented a rugby player he is, his chances of developing his skills are limited.

Compare him to a pupil — let’s call him Johannes — at Grey College, Bloemfontein, the most prolific producer of Springboks. Grey College comes weighted with more than a century of investment from the ranks of SA’s privileged. Its buildings and sports facilities are magnificent. Parents can afford to pay for extra staff to supplement teacher numbers. Old boys are willing and able to make generous donations.

Johannes also benefits from historically enriched social capital: his mother will be waiting in her car to pick him up after practice. He will go home to a hot shower, a comfortable bed and a nutritious meal. He will likely have access to nutritional supplements. On match days his family will be out in force to support him.

Meanwhile, Fikile is more likely to have to make his own way home. He will have to fetch water from a communal shower to wash; his evening meal will be bread or pap. There will be little in the way of the protein essential in this adolescent growth phase to build the muscle required to make it as a top South African rugby player.

On match days he will have to hustle for taxi money to get to the field. His mother, single-handedly supporting her family, probably on a social grant, is unlikely to have either the money or the time to accompany him.

Both Fikile and Johannes will dream of one day donning the green and gold. But the lives each has been born into will determine which one has any chance of realising his dream.

This inequality extends beyond school. Black players have spoken about the additional stress poverty imposes on them even if they make it to semi-professional teams. One told how, throughout a training session, he would be fretting about whether he had enough cash for the taxi home afterwards, while his white teammate climbed into the Golf bought for him by his father.

This is serious because it distracts the black player from what should be single-minded concentration on his performance. The coach notices and chalks it up to lack of commitment — and he ends up being sidelined. Poverty brings with it a sense of shame so the black player is unlikely to try to explain his predicament in such a competitive environment.

Even at the highest level the emotional toll of inequality puts many black players at a disadvantage. For instance, Jean de Villiers’ dad, Andre, still accompanies him to almost every game, no matter where he plays. Andre de Villiers makes no demands on his son but is simply there to offer support.

By contrast, Siya Kolisi, who grew up in poverty in Zwide, has spoken of how he experiences his family as an additional source of stress: “If I don’t play,” he told me, “people in the township don’t eat.” So he has to deal not only with the psychic wounds of a deprived childhood but an ongoing dearth of emotional support.

Playing at Springbok level requires emotional resilience: you need to be able to bounce back from long injury lay-offs, poor results, losing your place in the team. Only players who have this kind of resilience are able to cement their places in the starting line-up. Life has given Jean de Villiers the best chance of acquiring this. Kolisi is one of thousands of talented black players for whom it will always be a struggle.

We are not going to be able to close the inequality gap in the short term so we need to think about how to draw on rugby as a nation-builder in the meantime.

*This column first appeared in Business Day

LETTER IN BUSINESS DAY (05-09-2014

LIZ McGregor’s brilliant analysis (A tale of two would-be rugby Springboks — Johannes and Fikile, September 4) has clarified and verbalised the thoughts that I, and perhaps others, have had about the question of black representation in the Springbok rugby side.

Her final paragraph is worth repeating: “We are not going to be able to close the inequality gap in the short term so we need to think about how to draw on rugby as a nation builder in the meantime.”

Thank you, Ms McGregor.

Cedric Harris
Via e-mail

Thank you, Cedric, for your kind words. It would be good if everyone interested in the game could talk about this more and come up with a more intelligent way of running the game.

 

 

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NO LESS a figure than Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has weighed in on the rugby transformation debate. In a letter to the Cape Times, written as the Springboks were preparing to take on Argentina in Salta last month, Tutu remarked that it was “particularly hurtful” to see the selection of black players as “peripheral squad […]

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SACS takes on KES

News | Non Fiction | South Africa Comments Off

SIMMERING hostility over the poaching of schoolboy rugby talent has finally broken out into open warfare. The South African College School (Sacs), one of the oldest and best boys state schools in the country, has cut all ties with another venerable educational institution, King Edward High School (KES) in Johannesburg. Sacs’ rugby, water polo, cricket and hockey teams will no longer play against KES teams. What precipitated this dramatic gesture was the fact that Sacs arrived at the St Stithians Easter Rugby Festival last month with a squad of 23 boys and left with 22. One of their grade 10 black pupils is now a KES boy. It is suspected that the boy was offered a scholarship to persuade him to switch schools.

The top 24 state boys schools agreed just a few months ago on a sports charter “born of the concern that some of the high-profile sports at our schools are increasingly being driven by noneducational imperatives and affected by questionable (unethical) practices”. The charter rejected the practice of “approaching and offering money to boys to allow or encourage them to switch schools”.

It was agreed that scholarships and bursaries should be offered for academic achievement and financial need respectively, and should ideally be offered only in grade 8.

The charter follows a much angrier response on www.saschoolsports.co.za from Eastern Cape headmasters after last year’s Grant Khomo Week trials for under-16s, a popular hunting ground for talent scouts. At least Sacs and KES are fairly equal. This is not the case for Eastern Cape state schools, the country’s chief incubators of black rugby talent and largely based in much poorer communities.

The headmasters of Dale College, Queens College, Selborne and Hudson Park High School weighed in. Roy Hewett, headmaster of the last-mentioned school, was the most scathing: “Young men are approached in a clandestine way either at, or shortly after, the Grant Khomo Week. They are made financial offers which include free schooling, all expenses paid, clothing and a significant monthly payment, for a contractual commitment to the franchise in question. They are strongly encouraged to keep the knowledge of these negotiations from their schools and often disappear during the third-term break.”

These headmasters argue that the practice impoverishes their schools — they and their coaches have nurtured these boys for many years.

The boys have developed strong loyalties to the school: they are part of a healthy ecosystem in which sporting prowess is only part of their development. Academic achievement and character building are equally important. As rugby stars, these boys are regarded as heroes by their peers and provide inspiration and mentorship to younger boys.

Usually it is the Super Rugby franchises that initiate and fund the transfers. They place boys in stronger rugby schools in Pretoria or Durban. Sometimes, rich schools by promising players to boost their first teams or their quota of black players.

One could argue that these boys are being given a chance to move up in life: a life-changing opportunity for a better education and new networks that could enhance their career prospects.

Too often, though, it does not work out this way.

Frequently the transfer happens in grade 11 because schools don’t want to be saddled with a boy who then doesn’t perform, so they snaffle him to provide the X factor for their first teams in the last two years of school. The boys face hostility from other pupils because they are given a place in the team over others who have worked for it throughout their school career.

Being catapulted into a new school, particularly a largely white, much richer school, for the last two years of one’s school career is bound to be disorienting. The pupil will have been separated from family, community and culture.

And because he has been admitted to this institution purely to boost the rugby team, if he doesn’t perform, he is made to feel a failure.

This cynical use of young boys speaks to the power of rugby. A school whose first team performs well at rugby is considered a good school, regardless of other weaknesses. Parents with resources flock to such schools. Old boys open their wallets more eagerly. Greater resources mean schools can employ more teachers than the government will pay for, which means smaller classes and more individual attention. They can afford playing fields, libraries, computer labs and swimming pools.

Even if a black boy achieves his dream with an under-19 contract at one of the franchises, how far will he get? The racial composition of our elite teams does not bode well.

There is only one black South African Springbok with a regular starting position — Siya Kolisi. Super Rugby teams are overwhelmingly white. This year’s introduction of racial quotas for the lower rung of professional rugby, the Vodacom Cup, shows how many Saru unions have to be forced into giving their black players a proper opportunity.

The increase in tension between schools is regrettable but hopefully will result in the issue being properly addressed.

 

*This column first appeared in Business Day

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SIMMERING hostility over the poaching of schoolboy rugby talent has finally broken out into open warfare. The South African College School (Sacs), one of the oldest and best boys state schools in the country, has cut all ties with another venerable educational institution, King Edward High School (KES) in Johannesburg. Sacs’ rugby, water polo, cricket […]

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Museum airbrushes Louis Luyt from Springbok history

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One of the more meaningful of the Heritage Day events was the opening of the Springbok Experience at the Waterfront in Cape Town.  It’s a brilliant museum: cutting edge in the way it creates and conveys a credible narrative of the history of South African rugby.

Situated in the elegant Portswood House with Table Mountain looming in the background and the harbor spread out below, it takes you along a winding passage from the origins of rugby at the turn of last century, through the isolation era, where the walls become narrower and the ceiling is lowered and painted black – a dark setting for a dark era. One of the most interesting artefacts showcased in this bit is the original1981“Book of the Unwelcome”, anti-apartheid Kiwis’ counterpoint to the official letter of welcome sent to the Boks by the New Zealand Rugby Union.  Signed by 3,764 New Zealanders, and addressed to Johan Claassen, manager of the benighted Bok team that toured New Zealand in 1981, the covering letter politely requests the team to “return home”, expressing its “abhorrence of apartheid”.   It is remarkable that this three-decade old document has survived and a welcome sign of the times that it is now enshrined as part of official history.

Next up is a celebration of rugby’s black heroes, which segues into the modern era, brought to life by the powerful presence of the current Bok squad, taking a brief break from their preparations to take on the Australians at Newlands on Saturday.  Young flank, Siya Kolisi, who is turning out to be as talented on the public relations front as he is on the field, told journalists in both English and isiXhosa that he was grateful to yesterday’s black heroes for paving the way for him.

The best of the South African Rugby Union was on display in the spring sunshine: Andy Colquhoun, general manager of corporate affairs and the driving force behind the museum; CEO Jurie Roux and the entire Bok management squad.

Unfortunately, though, they are only half the story.  A glaring omission from the Springbok Experience is the late Louis Luyt, who appears to have been airbrushed from history.   It is understandable, given how divisive he was.  But he did drive the negotiations that ushered in professional rugby: the 1996 US$555million broadcast deal with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.  The sale of broadcast rights still provides the bulk of SARU’s income.  Of course, 1996 was also the year in which he forced then president Nelson Mandela to spend two days being grilled in the witness box in an attempt by the then president of SARFU (now SARU) to avoid a commission of enquiry into maladministration.

Luyt’s legacy lives on in other areas.  He is the man responsible for the current distribution of power in SARU.  In his 2004 autobiography, Walking Proud, he writes: “To facilitate South African Rugby’s bold entry into the brave new world of professionalism, we need to drastically reduce the number of SARFU unions from its all-time of 23……After tough and at times trying talks, we ended up with 14 unions.”

The same 14 unions designated by Luyt still run South African rugby.  What probably influenced Luyt in his distribution of largesse was the extent to which he could rely on these unions to support his own ongoing battle to stay in power.  It could be surmised then that it is no coincidence that several of SARU’s member unions are clustered around Ellis Park in Johannesburg, his own seat of power:  Springs (Valke), Potchefstroom (Leopards),  Witbank (Pumas), Welkom (Griffons).  In most of the areas presided over by these unions, very little rugby is played and the unions rely on their share of SARU’s broadcast income to stay afloat. Yet they cling grimly to the divine right bestowed upon them by Luyt:  around R10million a year and two votes each in SARU’s highest body, the general meeting of union presidents.  Unlike the Springbok team, they are not measured on their performance. They are accountable only to themselves. In the next round of elections for SARU’s executive arm, the Exco, the same group of men will do deals amongst themselves that will ensure they keep their seats.  The demands of professional rugby have changed dramatically since the Luyt era. But much of SARU remains stuck in 1996.

None of this should take away from the Springbok Experience.  Its great achievement is that it presents for the first time outside of academia an integrated narrative of rugby: the wounds and wrongs of the past are acknowledged, slighted black heroes restored to public glory and a solid platform laid for the future. All in a fun, interactive format.

The Springboks said it gave them an increased impetus for Saturday’s match: reinforcing what they already know. That rugby is so much more than just a game.

 

**This column first appeared in Business Day

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One of the more meaningful of the Heritage Day events was the opening of the Springbok Experience at the Waterfront in Cape Town.  It’s a brilliant museum: cutting edge in the way it creates and conveys a credible narrative of the history of South African rugby. Situated in the elegant Portswood House with Table Mountain […]

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