Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Affirmative Silliness

Apparently there is big danger now for the Springboks: despite being the strongest team in the world, it seems that politicians and politicking might be about the seriously undermine their success by imposing racial quotas on team selection.

Let me come right out and say: I understand the arguments both for and against affirmative action, and I believe that it can have a place in a society which is highly divided racially. There is a case to be made that unspoken racial prejudices exist even in countries where legislation has made those attitudes illegal, and a way of fighting those prejudices is to enforce changes in the workforce.

But not sport - and, specifically, not the national team of a country. Why? Not because it could potentially weaken the side - which is true; nor because it is unfair to the supposedly 'favoured' race, in this case the whites - which is true too; but because it has the exact opposite effect to that which is intended.

There are already a lot of black rugby players in South Africa, many of them playing professionally. What is more, two of the Springboks' star players - JP Pietersen and Bryan Habana - are black. This goes to prove firstly that success in rugby has nothing to do with race, and secondly to prove that the team management is not governed by racial bias in selection.

Bryan Habana

But by imposing a quota, the government risks destroying everything that the Springboks' management - and, more importantly, brilliant talents like JP Pietersen and Bryan Habana - have done for black rugby in South Africa, because it will forever taint black players with the suspicion that they have been selected not because they are the best rugby players in the country, but because they are the best black rugby players in the country. Not only that. It will also forever be a backhanded insult to the black population of South Africa, labelling them unable to progress as world-class rugby talents without aid from the government.

JP Pietersen and Bryan Habana have proved that untrue. They've proved that in the space of 12 years, the Springboks have changed from a parochial, backwards-looking bulwark of apartheid into a modern, unbiased reflection of their nation's diversity. That organic change might be scuppered irreperably by the interference of stupid politicians, and I find that disgraceful.

JP Pietersen

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