21/05/2018 14:56 SAST | Updated 21/05/2018 14:56 SAST

Rugby Should Be Inclusive, On And Off The Field

"To refer to any rugby player as a quota player is an insult and deserves contempt.”

Stu Forster via Getty Images

What transpired on Saturday evening after the Lions beat the Brumbies has left many in shock, some disappointed and others in disbelief.

What we know is that Ashwin Willemse was clearly upset about something that either Nick Mallet or Naas Botha said. If you watch the video, it was around the issue of quota players. Willemse took offence and then pointed out to his colleagues that "you played for the Boks in apartheid and a segregated era".

Personally, I think to refer to any rugby player as a quota player is an insult and deserves contempt. It should be buried, and the grave should not be visited. Rugby, after all, is a sport enjoyed and played by people from all walks of life.

Getty Images
Oregan Hoskins hands Ashwin Willemse his cap during the 2007 Rugby World Cup capping ceremony during the Sasol Springboks Farewell dinner held at the Sandton Convention Centre on September 2 2007.

Sadly, though, many black South Africans still view it as a sport that's controlled by "white people". I've heard from various black players, coaches and administrators how badly they are treated and not given fair opportunities in the sport they love, just because of the colour of their skin.

On the other side, I have also heard from white parents who feel their kids don't get the opportunity to represent various provincial and national teams simply because they are white. Both groups make valid points.

This brings me to the reason for writing this article. Rugby should be inclusive not only on the field of play, but also among the coaching staff, administrators and even the commentators and analysts.

Everyone should be able to express their views freely and not fear victimisation.

Players especially should feel welcome, because without them the game will die a slow and painful death.

SA Rugby is letting both sets of players down.

After the Willemse incident, I spoke to a black and a white Springbok rugby player and asked them off the record for their thoughts on the transformation plan SA Rugby currently has in place.

The white player told me: "It needs to go, because players feel discriminated against." The black player said: "We need it because we can't trust the coaches that they will pick us." So how do you balance the concerns of the white player and at the same time ensure that black players don't feel discriminated against?

Here, I feel SA Rugby is letting both sets of players down. If they scrap the national transformation targets, will we see a Bok team that is fully transformed, picked on merit?

Can we trust those in charge of rugby in this country to make rugby more inclusive, and not continue with the current status quo, without a binding transformation plan? The challenge is to develop world-class rugby players, black, white, coloured and Indian.

Nigel Marple / Reuters
New Zealand All Blacks vs South Africa Springboks - Auckland, New Zealand - September 16 2017

Sadly, there seems to be a factory fault somewhere in the production line. South Africa has some of the best schoolboy talent in the world, but SA Rugby can't seem to hold on to these players —because many young players, black and white, now opt to play overseas, and some make no secret of the fact that they wish to represent other international teams such as England, Scotland and Wales.

We can't fault them, though. They earn up to three times more than in South Africa, and the thing both white and black players point out to me is that they won't be discriminated against.

As the revelations of what exactly happened on Saturday evening become clear, all the roleplayers involved in South African rugby need to ask themselves: By excluding or simply tolerating certain people just because of the colour of their skin, how bright or dark is the future of South African and Springbok rugby?