Thursday 19 July 2018

Neil Francis: Quotas don't belong in top level sport

Rugby's authorities should not sit on their hands as South Africa proceeds with dangerous policy

Franco Mostert misses a lineout ball during yesterday’s clash between the Springboks and Australia. South Africa’s national team may get away without adhering to quotas, but the provincial sides may not. Photo: AFP/Getty
Franco Mostert misses a lineout ball during yesterday’s clash between the Springboks and Australia. South Africa’s national team may get away without adhering to quotas, but the provincial sides may not. Photo: AFP/Getty
Neil Francis

Neil Francis

I watched two documentaries recently which brought into stark focus how the world has changed. RTÉ's series of programmes, Reeling in the Years, is excellent and '1970' was particularly so. The other was the compelling film, Mugabe and The White African by Andrew Thompson and Lucy Bailey, which received a BAFTA nomination for Best Documentary. It's a chilling and depressing film about life as a white farmer in Mugabe's Zimbabwe.

In Reeling in the Years, they gave prominence to the Springbok tour to Ireland in 1970. There were widespread protests before and during the game. The trade union movement in this country organised and co-ordinated the protests, and on the day of the match 10,000 marched and the protest turned violent and got out of control. All this for a game of rugby?

Ten years previously, 69 black people were murdered in the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre, which still resonated in the mind a decade later. Events of that nature cannot be let go easily. My view is that the Springboks should not have been invited or allowed to play at the time.

Bailey and Thompson's documentary tells the story of Michael Campbell, a white Zimbabwean farmer who produced mangos. From 2000 onwards, Mugabe's government brought in indigenisation or land reform, which was the systematic seizure of land owned by white farmers. In the last 15 years, thousands of white farmers have been murdered or thrown off their farms. Butchered in their droves. The documentary features chilling footage of murder and intimidation, ethnic cleansing and genocide. In the racism spectrum, there is name-calling and discrimination, and then there is murder.

Most of the footage is covert, and the confrontations with farmers and Mugabe's goons are especially difficult to watch. The racial hatred is disturbing - one scene with a government minister from Zanu PF is sickening.

A few months after all of them were beaten to within an inch of their lives, the Campbells win a case in international law allowing them to keep the farm. The legal win is ignored because a year later their farm is burnt to the ground. It is clear that Mugabe wants the whites out or dead.

When Mugabe came to power in the early 1980s he still had the problem of dealing with his rival, Joshua Nkomo. In 1982 he had his 5th brigade trained by those nice people in North Korea. In 1983 they went to work in Nkomo's stronghold, Matabeleland. The Ndebele people are black African people but they have a different dialect, different culture and customs to the rest of Zimbabwe. Mugabe's brigade butchered 20,000 Ndebele people in a short space of time. Women and children were hacked to death with machetes - unspeakable crimes against humanity.

Eight years later I played against Zimbabwe in the 1991 World Cup in Lansdowne Road. Not one person showed up outside or inside the ground to protest that massacre. How do you reconcile that?

Ten years after the Sharpeville Massacre and the memory of that awful day is too much for some people's conscience to allow South Africa into our country, but eight years after a slaughter the magnitude of which is far more vile in scale and viciousness, nobody says a word.

Since Mugabe has turned his murderous hand to the white man, his cricket team have played matches on this island in 2000 and 2004. No protests. As recently as 2015 the Ireland men's cricket team played a series of matches in Zimbabwe, and this year the women's team did the same.

Back in 1981 the Irish rugby team had to skulk out of the country amid recrimination and deep division. The reason? The evil of Apartheid, the discrimination, segregation and naked racial hatred - all enshrined in the constitution in South Africa.

Yet what is on the statute books and in the hearts of a sizeable number of people in Zimbabwe now is no better than Apartheid South Africa. We know what is going on in that country, but because the racial hatred has been black on black, or more recently black on white, it does not seem to strike the same chord or carry the same opprobrium as white on black. How is that? Where are the protesters now? Where is the Irish anti-Apartheid movement now?

We look across the border to South Africa and we see that already there are warning signs of things to come. A friend of mine from South Africa told me after I enquired how his visit was: "Not good."

"Why?"

"Because we are 10 years behind Zimbabwe, but we are in the fast lane."

Land redistribution, nationalisation and transformation programmes are ploughing ahead without much thought for the consequences and unintended consequences. South Africa, it seems, has special dispensation for a lot of its political redress and misadventures, which brings us to the kernel of the issue.

Several years ago, sports minister Fikile Mbalula decreed that as part of the post-Apartheid process, transformation of the country would take place. Among the many measures which have been proposed and sanctioned is the proposal to introduce racial quotas in practically every sport in the country.

This will have the biggest impact on the Springboks, who up to this point have not complied with the new laws; neither have the Super Rugby franchises nor the Currie Cup sides. This will change in 2018. From the new season onwards, the Springboks and all senior provincial sides must have a team where 50 per cent of players are "generic black South Africans". 'Coloureds' or 'Cape coloureds' don't count. These players must have black skin. These players are to be included irrespective of ability, merit or potential. The penalties for non-compliance are severe. Withdrawal of all government funding is one, while another key penalty was "revoking the privilege of a federation to host or bid for major tournaments". The latter was relaxed so that South Africa would be able to bid for the 2023 World Cup.

In the free world, the West, the open market economy, the incongruity of any quota, while not repugnant or wholly unnecessary, doesn't sit with me as a concept. Academic quotas, agricultural quotas or racial quotas.

But still, even allowing for quotas where they seek to redress artificial imbalances in society, merit and ability are the cornerstones of sport when it comes to selection. So, quite apart from the fact that this law in South Africa breaks the fundamental principle of top level sport - that of picking the best players available to play for their country or province or club - it is also a flagrant breach of practically every law on discrimination.

World Rugby is caught in an invidious situation here. By-law 3F states that the objectives and functions of World Rugby are "to prevent discrimination of any kind against a country, private person or groups of people on account of ethnic origin, gender, language, religion, politics or any other reason".

Regulation 20, Misconduct and code of conduct 20c: ". . . acts or statements that are, or conduct that is, discriminatory by reason of religion, race, sex, sexual orientation, disability, colour or national or ethnic origin."

What is happening now in South Africa and what will be law in 2018 is a clear breach of World Rugby rules. World Rugby can't slap a ban or a fine on South Africa because it simply has no jurisdiction over South Africa. They can't ban them from international sport because they have traditionally been a world power and second only to New Zealand. They are in a heap at the moment and will struggle to recover to anything like their former glory, but if you impose sanctions or even a ban you would seriously weaken the structure of the game of rugby internationally. In this instance they can do absolutely nothing except adopt their favourite position, sitting on their hands.

South Africa's national team may get away with it, but the provincial sides may not. The Cheetahs and Southern Kings have joined the Pro14, a European competition which has its headquarters in Dublin and is subject to Irish and EU law. It's hard to see teams that are forced by government to select their players along race lines get past EU anti-discrimination law.

In Super Rugby, the Australian, New Zealand and Argentine legislatives may find that a team picked on racial quotas is also repugnant to their anti-discrimination laws.

Maybe the EU and southern hemisphere nations could act in concert - their governments and their rugby unions - to coerce South Africa into dropping this legislation. Does that sound familiar?

Things are going to get a whole lot worse in South Africa in the next 10 to 20 years. The evil of Apartheid ended 24 years ago, even if its legacy didn't end, and the struggle for redress and balance continues. But if you go down the route of racial quotas in an area like sport, the pendulum swings and you ask the question, how much better or worse are they than they were under Apartheid? Racism works both ways and is still very much alive in Africa. Racial quotas are part of its commandments.

Will there be anyone protesting outside the Aviva when the Boks arrive next month?

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