from Africa in Transition

South Africa’s Rugby to be Transformed?

November 14, 2014

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Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

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Across the racial rainbow, South Africans love sports. They excel in individual sports, such as golf, but also team sports. Since the end of apartheid, the Springboks, South Africa’s national rugby team, has twice won the Rugby World Cup (it is tied with New Zealand and Australia for the most titles). South African rugby is among the best in the world. South Africa’s football (soccer) team has won the African Cup of nations, and South Africa has hosted the FIFA World Cup. Bafana Bafana, the national team is usually regarded as one of the best in Africa.

As in so many other areas, sport in South Africa is divided by race. Rugby is typically considered a “white” sport, and the Springboks have only a handful of coloured or black players on their squad. Football is considered a “black” sport, Bafana Bafana has a single white player.

In part because of the world-wide prominence of South African rugby, critics complain that the very slow racial integration of the Springboks is symptomatic of the slow rate of racial transformation of the country since the coming of “non-racial” democracy in 1994. Accordingly pressure for greater racial integration has grown, both in the country at large and within the Zuma administration. Rugby managers, however, complain about the lack of black rugby talent, acknowledging that the opportunities and facilities for developing such talent are lacking.

Accordingly, the South African Rugby Union has announced that it will introduce a quota system in domestic rugby. Beginning next year, teams must select a minimum of seven black players out of a 22-player squad. To start a match will require each team to have a minimum of five black players. This quota system is designed to promote and develop black rugby talent that can rise to the Springbok squad

It remains to be seen whether the provincial teams will accept the quota system and make it work. For the time being, there are no sanctions for non-compliance, though they may come. There is no parallel effort underway to change the racial composition of Bafana Bafana. But, many, perhaps most, South Africans see rugby and the mostly-white Springboks as part of the heritage of apartheid, while football does not have those associations.

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