Who is the racist now?

Writing in his Sport24 column this week, TANK LANNING reckons the ANC were happy to use the lack of merit based selections as a reason to boycott SA sport in the 80’s, yet now want to implement exactly that.

Tank Lanning

“White men can’t jump”

Well, so says white basketball hustler Billy Hoyle (so splendidly played by Woody Harrelson in the movie) – who banks on black players underestimating his skills on the court.

Why, because the NBA is 74.4% black.

Yet the American population is 77.7% white.

Hurry, let’s get Fikile Mbalula across to the land of the free. Perhaps he could fight for basketball to be more representative of the population, and then it could be called the Basketball World Champs, and countries outside of the USA would actually have a chance!

Well, here’s the deal – black guys are just better than white guys at basketball.

And, swoon, white people still go to games to support their team every week!

Would it really be so terribly tragic of it turned out that white guys are just better than black guys at rugby?

Yes of course we need to give every single South African the chance to play rugby, but that is a very different concept to just ordering every national team to be representative of the country’s demographics!

Much cleverer people than me have provided clear transformation definitions, but all Mbalula has done with his political grandstanding this week, is prove that he and the ANC are about chasing colour, and NOT equal opportunities for all.

Simply put – its racism being used to “Rectify” a previous racism.

Perhaps his aim is to prove that two wrongs can actually make a right?

And by moving away from merit based selections to ones of good old fashioned window dressing, is he not actually accusing the current selectors and coaches of being racist? That’s a massive call …

Of course I will be labelled racist for even thinking of challenging this thinking, but who is the actual racist here?

Transformation and excellence are NOT mutually exclusive. Window dressing and excellence are, though.

Transformation is about broadening the talent pool and offering that pool an equal opportunity to achieve said excellence. Not creating a sense of entitlement like the ANC has done in order to curry votes from those unlikely to interact with the mainstream media.

And one has to wonder why the ruling party keeps harping on the race card?

My 8 year old son cannot wait to play cricket with his coloured mate before school, steal his white mate’s sarmie at lunch, and then sell a dummy to his black mate at Tag after school. “Can you get me Siya’s autograph please dad” he asked me on the weekend. Race is just not part of his vocabulary. It’s just not.

Yet here we have a government and sports minister forcing race back into every day dialogue, including that of my 8 year old. Why?

Easy political points in an election year perhaps?

In a paper prepared by Abdul Minty on behalf of the ANC that was presented to the United Nations as a reason for countries to boycott all SA sport because of apartheid in the 1980’s, Minty said: “Human beings should not be willing partners in perpetuating a system of racial discrimination. Sportsmen have a special duty in this regard in that they should be first to insist that merit, and merit alone, be the criterion for selecting teams for representative sport.”

Only worth preaching when it suits you?


  1. Hi Tank

    You’re 100% right to ask these questions. One might ask the same thing about Japan’s rugby team, and why certain positions are occupied by non-Japanese players? Would they be able to find local players with the necessary stature and size to play at the level needed? Probably, but that player might be 1 in 500,000 instead of the 1 in 50,000 that can play wing, fullback or scrum half, and so it’s hardly surprising that the makeup of the team evolves (as per Darwin – survival of the fittest & natural selection) to reflect what the game is demanding of the player position!

    In the same way, I suspect it is true for SA sport, especially rugby. Rugby is unique because it demands the widest range of anthropometrical variables (height and mass, basically) of any team sport. Yeah, they’re all big guys, but the range from scrum half to props and locks in terms of mass is huge, and then add locks for height, and you get a specialisation within a sport that no other one has. I’ve got data on this for every World Cup team going back to 1991, by the way, which is something I’d like to talk to you about some day, you might be interested! Basketball is relatively narrow – they’re all tall, and they all have arm:height ratios that are relatively similar at the extreme end of the population.

    Anyway, I’m digressing. The one thing I would say to all this is that it’s just a hypothesis. It MIGHT be true, but equally, it MIGHT not. Nobody has done a study or surveyed this possibility that certain groups are more or less likely to have attributes that predispose them to success. Even in things like sprinting or long-distance running people still argue whether Jamaicans and Kenyans have genetic advantages or if anyone from around the world can succeed. In my opinion, it’s pretty obvious, but nevertheless, it’s a debate.

    So as it pertains to SA Rugby, some thoughts to consider. Studies have found that black players at Craven week are significantly lighter than white peers. However, that may be as much a result of the lack of gym training in their youth, and possibly poor diets, as it is about genetic or innate factors. Until that’s corrected, you can’t know.

    Second, what is really required is a multi-year study of the best players from U/16 level Craven Week, through to senior, where we know that about 50 to 60% of the players at Craven Week U/16 make it to U/18 level, and maybe 10% go to senior teams (more now, because Varsity Cup takes up many of them). Let’s document their physical evolution. Let’s measure the size and height of all the players in SARU tournaments. And what is more, let’s get them doing a 1-RM bench press, and a 40m sprint test, at every level (day 0 of Craven Week for instance), and then let’s track their progress over time. How cool would it be to say, for instance, the following:

    1. Black players and white players progress and improve speed and strength at the same rate from the age of 16 to adulthood, but black players start with a 6% lower score for both? Or, the alternative finding:

    2. There is no difference at any point between black and white players for size, strength, mass and speed from 16 to senior level, or;

    3. Black and white players start out similar, or different, but white players become larger, taller, faster and stronger when corrected for playing position over the 6 years into adulthood.

    I mean, any one of those three is possible, but each requires a different action. 1) would mean you’ve got to look at the start point, and ask whether it can be improved, maybe diet, maybe economically, maybe training. If it’s 2), then your solution is to seek other explanations, because you’ll have disproven the hypothesis that the success or failure of transformation is down to physiological and physical differences. And if it’s 3) then you’ve gotta start understanding why those differences emerge, and whether it is just massively inefficient to try to support a certain group or not? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.

    I don’t have an answer here, and I think that’s the point. Nobody knows for sure. All I keep hearing on the radio is how we have such great abundant talent in the juniors, but it disappears in the seniors. Is that true? What’s the drop-out vs retention for black vs white sportsmen, and is it different? Second, where do they drop out? And third, why?

    In the absence of answers, I hear a lot of people wondering, and speculating, which soon becomes accusations, and now you’re dealing with some people accusing others of racism, while others are saying that the population is simply not there in the same numbers for black players as white. Both could be true, in varying amounts, but how can you formulate a solution when you don’t know!

    Anyway, I’m going on too long! Too many questions, not enough answers!

    1. Shot a lot Ross. Agree fully re making it a scientific exploration so we can make calls based on numbers. Very smart. Interesting that you raise the subject of Craven Week. A non-scientific observation: it is the most “Contrived” of the tournaments given the heavy quota requirements. Everyone was raving about the EP team last year, until they took 95 from WP in the final. Are we not creating false expectations by playing a 1.6m 68kg guy on the flank in an environment where he might do OK, but then has no chance of making it in the pro’s? So after Craven Week, players then need to survive on their own after being led down a garden path of false expectation partly to do with the quota system. Hence the massive drop off. or one of the reasons for it …

      1. Yeah, you’re right, the forced quotas at those age-groups make any future bets much more difficult to interpret. It would explain a massive drop-off, definitely. Would be interesting to compare those who make it to those who do not, and see if any trends emerge in that regard. Anyway, lots to wonder, nothing to be known!


  2. All excellent arguments but lost on the ANC but logic is lost on them. It’s all about cheap political point scoring and lunatic fringe social engineering. They son’t give a shit about sport except soccer (and we can all see how well they do there).

    It’s like trying to reason with a charging rhino – totally useless.

    What should happen is that World Rugby and Cricket should refuse to play against us just like they did in the past. But because they are so politically correct (which takes ones balls away) they wouldn’t possibly dare do what would be the honourable thing to do.

  3. Tank, are you really suggesting that the reason SA’s Rugby, Netball, Cricket and Athletics teams are still (still!) so unrepresentative because ‘white guys are just better than black guys’? Is that seriously your claim? As a journalist, you need to be more thoughtful with your words.

    Since you went digging in the archives, let’s talk a little about history. The structural racism that kept black people out of SA’s national sports under Apartheid is in many ways still intact, and still keeping black people out of the top levels of most sports. Everything from access to facilities, equipment and nutrition, to racism on the part of coaches and teammates, to the response in the media to black players and officials, is a manifestation of this. The barriers that a young black child (say, your son’s 8-year old friend) has to overcome are simply so much higher than for a white child (like your son). Because of Apartheid and ongoing racial inequality.

    So the Minister is perhaps taking a blunt tool to a delicate job by suggesting a blanket ban on major events until the national sides are more representative, but really what he is doing is saying ‘This needs to stop. Whatever you need to do to make Rugby (and the other sports) truly accessible to the whole population, do it. But you’re not going to simply get away with doing the same thing you’ve always done and expect government support.’

    The race card is already in play. You and your colleagues played it when you questioned Mzwandile Stick and Allister Coetzee’s credentials but not their white counterparts. It’s been played by countless racist white rugby fans dismissing black players as quotas, tokens (and many, unprintably worse things). It’s been played by coaches who pass over talented black players in favour of white players (as Heyneke Meyer did several times, including to your son’s favourite Siya Kolisi).

    What you are doing with this article is not thoughtful commentary. You are sensationalising the situation because you know it will rile up your (largely white) audience (and maybe because you yourself are riled up). Maybe sensationalism is the business you’re in, but frankly I expected more.

    1. I asked if it would be so bad if white guys turned out to be better at rugby than black guys? You jumped to the conclusion you have in your comment Shingi. Why does it always come down to a black VS white thing? Why when a white guy questions the ability of a black guy it’s racist, and cannot possibly be do with the guy’s ability? I have questioned the abilities of many a white coach and player, yet never has been race brought into that? Apologies for wanting a merit based selection policy aimed at excellence …

    2. Shingi, what planet are you from? You have simply gotten on your high horse.
      No where in Tank’s aritcle did he suggest that Netball, Cricket and Athletic teams are still so unrepresentative because white guys are just better than black guys’ Yes maybe in rugby and yes maybe black people are better at basketball? Who cares?

      The point is there should be no political interferance in sport and transformation should start from the roots going up (i.e. schools, clubs and maybe provincial.) Not the other way round and messing with our National and Super Rugby teams.
      The best players should play in our National team, no matter the colour of their skins!
      No where in the world exists such nonsense, its nothing other that racism!

      The same goes for our Springbok emblem, to even suggest its removal is disgusting, especially that it’s politically motivated! It throws away all the good work of unity that Madiba brought to us all.

      To end off on a positive note, we have such talented players of colour of which we could easily achieve the so called 50% on merit alone. Cheslin Kolbe, JP Peterson, Juan de Jongh, Lionel Mapoe, Bryan Habana, Lwazi Mvovo, Elton Jantjies, Siya Kolisi, Scarra Ntubeni, Beast and the list goes on, any of them could make the Springbok team going forward so what is Fikile Mbalula really trying to achieve?

      Keep up the good work Tank, your articles rock.

    3. Shingi,

      Why the anger directed at Tank? He’s asking important questions and opening a forum for debate not rebuke.

      Why don’t you ask yourself why you’re so angry? Is it because our (and I say our regardless of who you or I voted for) Government has failed us? Failed our children? We’ve had 22 years of democracy. What if the over R700 billion that has been lost to corruption had been spent on building better schools? Schools with fields that actually have a blade of grass on them? Where is the development?

      Transformation without development is futile. It doesn’t start in the national team – it starts with the kids in Primary School.

      A white guy asks some questions about the abilities of some black guys and he’s suddently racist? Why? That same white guy has obliterated some white guys with his comments in the past. Merit is merit – let’s leave the race out of it.

      I’ll quote Damian Murphy here:

      “It’s not about making one or two black players Springboks or Proteas, it’s about allowing millions of people to be inspired by a national team that wins and represents it’s country with pride. I am sure every Protea fan or Springbok fan would agree, I would support 15 black players in Springbok jerseys if they were the best 15 players in the country. I would support 11 black cricketers if they were the best 11. I stood when Bavuma got his test 100. I cheered Rabada when he destroyed the English attack, I yell “Beeeaaaasssssstttt!!!” whenever Tendai gets the ball. It’s not about color for us as supporters, it’s about national pride. I support change and I support development, but do it at junior level, or provincial level. But in the end, don’t punish us, the fans, who only see two colors, green and gold. Don’t punish us who sing the national anthem as loudly when Bafana play, as we do when the proteas play.”

  4. Aahhh Shingi – there it is the so called “chip”, the govt of the day and the govt that has been in power since 1994 is responsible for transformation and education in this country yet they are more interested in property development in the hills of kwazulu natal – transformation happens at the very beginning not when you are in your 20’s…. the current government has failed and is now blaming sports bodies for their incompetence…
    and i disagree with you completely with regard to it being so difficult for a young player of colour to get to the top – the road is easier than a white “privileged” kid as he is being blamed for what happened 30 to 40 years ago – even though his parents at that stage were either a twinkle in their grand parents eyes or not even born…
    i have an 11 year old son who came home from school wondering why he should play cricket if they are only going to choose players of colour and not on merit….
    sport should be available to all and the top team of the nation should be selected on merit and not based on the colour of one’s skin or their background (whether privileged or not) – if you are the best in that position then you should play – end of story

    it amazes me how transformation is only discussed in the year of elections and the anc supporters just lap it up….

    the rest of the world will not want to play against us if we pick teams based on race and background as they want to play against the best possible SPRINGBOK or PROTEA’s team possible…

    Get over yourself

    I am done

  5. Dear Shingi
    You wrote “Since you went digging in the archives, let’s talk a little about history. The structural racism that kept black people out of SA’s national sports under Apartheid is in many ways still intact, and still keeping black people out of the top levels of most sports. Everything from access to facilities, equipment and nutrition, to racism on the part of coaches and teammates”

    Writing that you did not realise that it is just a poor excuse. I grew up and was labelled a poor white, because I went to a school with no facilities. Our coach an ex-Transvaal wing did the next best thing.All our training was done on a plot adjacent to our school. It was actually the grazing ground for a number of cows who
    watched our progress with interest, as we had to scrum down among the cow dung
    dubbeltjies (sharp thorns) etc , being tackled and brought down among that lot, I am sure would be viewed with horror by the younger generation.

    This went on,for a long time and finally we had with the help of parents our own rugby field, with grass planted enthusiastically and pride by all the barefoot rugby players.

    Now let me remind you of the following:

    A winner is always part of the answer.
    A loser is always part of the problem.

    A winner always has a plan.
    A loser always has an excuse.

    A winner says: “Let me do it for you.”
    A loser says: “That is not my job.”

    A winner sees an answer for any problem.
    A loser sees a problem for any answer.

    A winner sees a green near every sandtrap.
    A loser sees two sandtraps near every green.

    A winner says: “It may be difficult but it’s possible.”
    A loser says: “It may be possible but it’s too difficult.”

    Author Unknown

    So what are you going to be?

  6. Hi Tank

    My opinion of your question, is white people better at rugby, is yes currently they are. HOWEVER / BUT, as per minister’s speech 84% of youth is black and don’t have opportunity to possibly develop. Thus looking over time or holistically, we cant answer that question because we haven’t compared apples with apples as yet.

    1. Indeed James. Transformation is about growing the talent pool. That is why the Kings, if implemented correctly, are a good call. And please remember that I did use the word “IF” when discussing white vs black players.

  7. The actual point, I think, is being missed here.
    Put something simply, the Minister has failed at his mandate and job. Enforcing a quota at national levels and banning the hosting of international events that would actually inspire our sport playing youth creates enough hype that he has expertly taken everyone’s eye off the fact that he has failed to out in place the structures and systems at grassroots and school level to ensure that there can be a merit based selection.
    He is making it everyone else’s problem except his and the government’s. He has created another way for this ANC government, in an election year, to say that there is still racism in society (which there is in certain parts), but has brought it into main stream by saying and doing what he has done. They are more focuses on causing division in society than building a single society.
    I don’t care who plays for the team I support, as long as they are brilliant at it and win.
    Simple as that.

    1. Absolutely spot on Mark. A point I made in a previous column. It’s the systemic transformation that has failed, and now it’s everyone else’s problem, including the new Bok coach. Is that really fair?

  8. We could go on about transformation for months and months. I think there are so many aspects that the government has not considered and thus have also come up with too simple a method of tackling this extremely complex animal. I will leave all the complex stuff to the experts and leave a short comment about the role of the government.

    It has long been thought that FM is not entirely his own man and often takes instruction from the Government n pushing the ANC agenda (whatever that might be) as is only normal. That being said, there seems to be a real lack of accountability by the government and the ministry of sport and recreation in achieving (or lack there of) these quota targets. The government must be active in helping the respective National Federations reach these targets from the bottom up and the end results of course cannot be measured on a strict basis i.e a certain number of non white/black players must be selected in the national team.

    The ban is very obviously not the answer and is plain wrong. Again it seems the ministry has managed to punish the sport, the athletes and the nation (and the many other stakeholders – business and otherwise) by this ban and have accepted none of the responsibility in dealing with the issue of transformation.

  9. There is more to succeeding at sport than just access to facilities and your average coach.

    White English and Afrikaans boys have had similar access to facilities over the years and yet Rugby has traditionally been dominated by Afrikaans and Cricket by English boys.

    1. Afrikaans boys are traditionally stronger, bigger and tougher than the English counterparts. Probably because in the past, most of the Afrikaans boys started out in the Platteland where the diet and physical demands as a young child was the perfect environment for such development. They were also raised by tough men.

    2. Then by default or not, we created a system that in essence funneled all good talent into a handful of schools, which in essence became mini high performance academies. Majority of Springboks originate from a handful of schools.

    3. Don’t under estimate the influence of the intellectual knowledge that has been past down from generation to generation – explaining the nuances of the game and the instilling of passion. In certain circles, rugby is a religion and winning is a must. Just watch a game of rugby at u7 level and you will see that for some Dads winning is a must, while others are just happy their kids are playing.

    Hopefully with Ross Tucker and the likes, we can identify where the current system / society imbalances fails our black South Africans and we can put measures in place to address these short comings.

    We can learn a lot from the successes of the past (even in a skewed system) and with the right people, we can not only transform existing structures, but also replicate and replicate and replicate in our previously disadvantaged areas.

    Rolling out facilities and coaches to all, will require a collaboration of Government (infrastructure development), private sector sponsorship and the sporting federations. Doing it alone and haphazardly is the most painful of all the options and least effective in my opinion.

    Let us accept our differences (strengths and weaknesses) and combine them to make a stronger sporting nation. Hopefully over time our differences, experiences and outlooks narrow, but this will probably only be realized over 2 or 3 generations.

    There is nothing wrong with a Bafana Bafana team that is predominately all black or a Bok team that is 70% white. There is also nothing wrong with a Bok team that is predominantly black. What matters is the fact that we all have access to the same standard of education, facilities, quality coaches and are afforded equal opportunity to succeed. We do need to address the past injustices and fast.

    * It would be interesting to see if there are any parallels between the Island men dominating NZ Rugby and Afrikaans SA Rugby. Diet, genetics, life style etc.

    I choose to celebrate our diversity – The bulk of an Eben Etzebeth, the slight of foot of a Kolbe, the talents of Chad Le Clos, the achievements of Wade van Niekerk, the raw speed of Radaba and the continued success of Ernst van Dyk etc.

    Proudly South Africa

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