ARTICLE: QUOTAS IN SPORT: RACIALLY ISOLATING OURSELVES ONCE MORE

MBALULA-FOTERA core policy directive in the Department of Sport and Recreation’s 2013 White Paper on Sport and Recreation stated that "The racial composition of national teams should not be advocated, nor should National Federations be prescribed to on how they should select their teams. National teams should be selected on merit but transformation should be implemented at school/youth levels to prepare a broad basis of athletes for participation at higher levels in future".

This policy directive stands in stark contrast to recent resolutions taken by the Department of Sport following a meeting between Minister of Sport Fikile Mbalula and provincial MEC’s for sport and these resolutions should constitute cause for concern for all South Africans.

The resolutions will affect South Africa’s most popular sports such as rugby, cricket, netball, athletics and football.

According to reports, the group decided to increase the 50/50 quota system to 60% representation, after noting what they call a "lack of willingness in implementing transformation, especially the enforcement of quotas" and that "failure to implement the new quotas would result in withdrawal of any form of funding and support to federations and sport bodies".

Mbalula stated further that "the national colours of any federation that is hell-bent on the current set-up and status quo will be withdrawn" and that his department would block sponsorship of any sports association that was hostile to transformation.

Indications from the department are that the 60% requirement would come into effect immediately and that all the resolutions of the meeting must be implemented before the new government administration takes office after the May 7 general elections.

This rhetoric stems from the ANC’s idea of absolute demographic representivity and the party’s National Democratic Revolution (NDR), and will have grave consequences for South Africa and its athletes.

Quotas, especially those based on the race of athletes or players, have no place in sport - be it nationally or internationally. Given South Africa’s peculiar history on the topic before 1994, the responsibility to develop athletes, players and talent from previously disadvantaged communities is not disputed.

However, the enforcement of a 60% racial quota in all of South Africa’s national sports teams (and this will no doubt filter down to provincial and other levels of sport participation) is also not the answer.

The resolutions will, undoubtedly, be unacceptable to most of the international sporting community. The regulations issued by almost every international sporting body prohibit any form of racial discrimination and government interference in sport:

(a)   Not at any time offend, insult, humiliate, intimidate, threaten, disparage, vilify or unlawfully discriminate between persons based on their race, religion, culture, colour, descent, and/or national or ethnic origin;

(b)   Adopt appropriate policies that it is clear to all employees, officials, commercial partners and other participants and stakeholders that inappropriate Racist Conduct (including in any public statements) will not be tolerated by the ICC or by the Member";

The resolutions are also unlawful because any move to implement racial quotas would contravene the Employment Equity Act 55 of 1998. The Act authorises numerical targets, but specifically prohibits quotas. Players and other athletes usually have contracts with unions or companies and are as a result undoubtedly employees and this makes the Employment Equity Act applicable to them.

There is simply no basis to prove that a race-based quota system will contribute to the development of new players. On the contrary, it could only serve to disadvantage talented sport stars all over South Africa, regardless of their race. Sport (and specifically professional sport) must be accessible to all South Africans, but this needs to be done through development and not quotas. Also, the idea of simply imposing a 60% blanket racial quota in all or the most popular South African sports negates differing cultural tastes and interests of many South Africans when it comes to their participation in different sports disciplines. Many South Africans simply do not want to participate in athletics, as others do not want to play rugby or netball.

South Africa should field the best possible teams in every sport in which we compete - regardless of their race. If this means that 100% of our cricket or rugby teams are black - that’s fine - provided only that they are chosen on merit. Could one imagine the outcry if anybody would dare complain that US track and field teams are disproportionally black?

The solution to developing more representative teams lies in improving access to sport facilities and training for all our people. However, at the end of the day it should be enough to be proud of our sports stars because they are ours - and not because they belong to this or the other race.

If South Africa persists with the enforcement of racial quotas in our sports teams, we will find ourselves increasingly isolated in the international sports arena. What is even worse is that sport will once again become a source of division, rather than national unity.

By Adv Jacques du Preez, FW de Klerk Foundation

 Photo credit: GovernmentZA / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)