Face of sport changing… but too slowly

CAPE TOWN – There is progress but at times it is too pedestrian when it comes to transformation in many of South Africa’s premier sporting codes. It has to be spoken about consistently and the situation must be challenged through awareness, discussion and debate.

There are good news stories but they are balanced by stories of bias and white prejudice that are all too familiar with this wonderful country’s bitter past. We can’t be seen as one when a minority can comfortably claim majority status in many sports.

Netball South Africa, hosts for the 2023 World Cup in Cape Town, will claim a victory in transformation with the appointment of Bongi Msomi as the country’s first black netball captain for a World Cup tournament.

Msomi will lead a squad of 12 in Liverpool, England as the Protea netballers look for their first medal finish since the silver of 1995.

Confirmation of her leading position was the more poignant because it coincides with Africa Day tomorrow, which is a day of celebration but also one of reflection in the fight against oppression and colonialism.

Africa Day commemorates the foundation of the Organisation of African Unity on May 25. It marks the liberation movement’s progress and is a symbol of the determination of the people in Africa to break the shackles of foreign control.

In the South African context, Africa Day also speaks to a pre- and post-apartheid South Africa. And when we look at sport, which is mirror of so much in South African society, the picture is more bleak than brilliant.

Msomi is the captain but in a squad of 12, there are only four black players. Netball in South Africa is a black-dominated sport, from within the school system to the professional leagues.

Why are so few black numbers reflected in the national team selection? It speaks of netball’s failure to transform effectively over the past 25 years. There has been advancement but not at an acceptable pace.

I question intent. It is a consistent question from those who doubt the integrity within netball’s white national team history, pre- and post-apartheid.

South Africa, in 2023, will host the Netball World Cup in Cape Town for the first time. It is non-negotiable that the squad in 2023 is a reflection of a post-apartheid South Africa and not a reminder of how a minority ruled the majority for a century. The lack of black-playing numbers in Netball South Africa’s World Cup squad must be challenged. It has to change.

In keeping with May 25th’s Africa Day, what must be celebrated is the individual success stories of black men and women in South African rugby.

For the first time, South Africa’s men’s 15 and 7s captains are black, the women’s national team captain is black and the men’s under 20 World Cup captain is black.

SA Rugby Union president Mark Alexander called me full of cheer at who sits at the helm of the respective teams. He said it was another step in the right direction for a sport that could have a future in South Africa in 2030 only if it spoke to the country’s majority.

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Former WomenBoks player Laurian Johannes is the current SA Women Under-20 coach. Photo: Michael Sheehan

Women’s rugby broke new ground: Laurian Johannes, a former University of Western Cape graduate and woman Springbok player, was appointed as the first woman coach of the national women’s team. Former female Springbok Nomsebenzi Tsotsobe is the manager of the woman Springboks.

Johannes, Tsotsobe and Msomi are names that will shine brightly on Africa Day but in the future these names can’t be the exception – they have to be the norm.


* Keohane is the head of sport at Independent Media

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