SA Rugby president Mark Alexander has taken a swipe at government for demanding transformation from national sporting federations despite failing themselves in addressing structural issues.
Alexander, who’s become known as a far more straight-talking and pragmatic administrator than his successor, Oregan Hoskins, believes efforts to address inequalities will be limited unless there’s mass participation at schools.
“The Minister is talking about transformation all the time,” he said at the launch of the first encyclopaedia of black rugby in South Africa in Cape Town.
“How are you going to transform when the bulk of our public schools don’t do any form of sport? The barriers to entry are so big. How are you going to get the kids to play sport? Teachers aren’t coaches anymore.”
He cites his own experiences as a schoolboy during Apartheid as an example that you don’t need massive investment to practice a sport.
“When I was young, we played Wednesday league games. We didn’t have money, but we played rugby nonetheless,” said Alexander.
“We don’t do that anymore.”
As a result, local rugby is forced to follow a similar model to cricket, where some promising youngster from rural or township areas are identified and enrolled at prestigious schools on bursaries to develop.
But that still upholds a system of exclusivity.
“We take kids from previously disadvantaged schools and place them in rugby schools. There’s a gym there, there’s proper nutrition. All these things count if you’re a rugby player,” said Alexander.
“It’s not just about playing rugby. Kids from the Eastern Cape know how to play, they’ve got a flair for the game, but some of them are physically not big enough because of socio-economic challenges. They don’t eat well, they can’t gym. Simple things like that.
“You can run on a road for days, but for rugby you need strength too.”