Transformation in Sport

Transformation in sport has been a lot in the news lately, both in Namibia and in South Africa. Here in Namibia it formed part of last weekend’s National Sport Conference, where it was vigorously debated, with wide-ranging and opposing views taken by the panelists.

One of the most contentious issues of transformation – the introduction of quotas for national sport teams, where a set number of players have to be black – was mooted by some panelists and opposed by others.

Some said that transformation will never come about if set targets are not met, while others said that quotas had been disastrous in South Africa.

South African cricket had previously introduced a quota system in 1999 but it was not very successful in transforming the sport and was abandoned in 2007. Since 1994 South Africa has only produced five black national cricketers, and of these only Makhaya Ntini cemented his place in the national side, eventually playing in more than 100 Tests.

A study into the impact of quotas in cricket found that young black cricketers were not coming through the ranks to national level due to aerse socio-economic conditions, while racism was still a problem with regard to team selections.

Last year, however, a quota system was reintroduced, but now the definition of ‘black’ has changed to that of indigenous Africans, and not people of mixed race.

The South African Minister of Sport Fikile Mbalula went a step further when he recently threatened to withdraw national teams from competing internationally, saying that athletics, cricket, football, netball and rugby are falling behind with transformation and development.

He said he wanted to see 60 percent black representation in teams before the 7 May South African elections and warned of harsh punishment if there was any form of resistance to these measures.

Mbalula however later backtracked, saying that a 6040 quota would not be implemented after a meeting with three minority groups, Agriforum, Solidarity and Freedom Front Plus, who amongst others said that quotas were unconstitutional and discriminatory.

Personally, I’ve never liked the idea of quotas, mainly because it creates the impression that a team is not selected on merit. If you want to become a winning nation, you have to be able to beat the best, and to beat the best you need your gest side.

Especially a country like Namibia with its limited player base can ill afford not to select its best teams. In cricket for instance, Namibia hardly has 1 000 active senior players to choose from while an upcoming cricketing nation like Afghanistan has more than 200 000 cricketers.

But these statistics also highlight the need for transformation in sport and why it is especially important in Namibia. If the government or sport federations and administrators don’t transform sport, by levelling the playing field and increasing the player base, then Namibia will never develop into a winning nation either.

The fact that rugby has qualified for the past four World Cups is actually a remarkable achievement bearing in mind that it has less than 10 000 registered players from junior to senior level, while other African nations like Zimbabwe and Kenya have more than 30 000 and 40 000 players respectively. Namibia has a great rugby culture and a proud history but sooner or later these emerging African countries will overtake us if we don’t broaden our player base and develop and transform the sport.

But Namibian sport is a reflection of its larger society, where Namibia is also struggling with transformation, with one of the most skewed economies in the world, with regard to income inequality.

With economic inequalities still so skewed it is hardly surprising that this impacts on sport, where the majority of children do not even have proper facilities to practise sport, let alone resources to develop their potential.

For transformation to work, it needs to be embraced by the whole of society, while sport codes and administrators need to overcome years of distrust by working together and forging a common purpose – to become a winning nation.

Source : The Namibian