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That 1995 Rugby World Cup photo of Nelson Mandela presenting the Web Ellis trophy to South Africa captain Francois Pienaar offered the promise that sport in that nation had witnessed the end of racial apartheid.
But twenty-two years later, via an unexpected and different sort of national sports proposal, the South African government has demanded racial quotas that increase the number of black athletes, coaches, and staff in rugby, cricket, netball, and other sports. These quotas must be met by 2019, or the sports organizations will suffer significant penalties.
In South Africa, blacks comprise ninety-percent of the population but have been historically underrepresented on all male and female national sports teams even after the cessation of apartheid.
The Minister of Sport, Fikile Mbalula, perceived that integration into national teams had proceeded at too slow a pace. The immediate solution was to mandate a new quota system with short-term deadlines for compliance.
By 2019, blacks must make up fifty-percent of the Springboks XV (also, four of 11 cricket players). If these racial objectives are not met, then the government can:
- Eliminate funding;
- Prohibit the hosting of international events;
- Withdraw government sanctioning; and,
- Stop its support for sponsorships.
In addition, objectives require blacks to be 60-percent of all staff positions, be 60-percent of all coaches, and, that female blacks comprise 80-percent of all national team athletes.
Traditionally, very few blacks in South Africa have played rugby, and currently, there are few on the Springboks' squad. (N.B. Many more South African 7s players are black, since wide open 7s requires less traditional rugby experience and training.)
It’s questionable what the rugby outcome will be for the Springboks in two-years, or what effect these changes will portend in the Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan. But what is certain for rugby is that the country will no longer endure that its dominant racial majority be barely visible on the world’s pitches.