Transformation is not only viewed through a narrow Springbok team lens

Transformation is not only viewed through a narrow Springbok team lens
Siya Kolisi, the South Africa captain and Faf de Klerk attempt to gather the loose ball during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 semifinal match between England and South Africa at Stade de France on 21 October 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo: David Rogers / Getty Images)

Despite recent sensational headlines about the Springboks’ falling short in their 2023 transformation targets, the measurement of progress is much broader.

As the saying goes: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” And the South African Rugby Union (Saru) committed to the measurement and management of transformation nearly a decade ago. 

The inevitable outcome of measuring anything is that you do not always get the outcome you were hoping for. Which is why Saru’s latest audit has been implemented — to track progress and take remedial steps where necessary. 

The audit, covering the 2023 season, while placing it in the context of Saru’s Strategic Transformation Development Plan (STDP) 2030, is far from alarming. In fact, it’s massively encouraging while not shy to document where improvement is needed. 

The entire rugby ecosystem — all 15 provinces, from schoolboys and girls to the Springboks at the tip of the pyramid — is measured. 

But over the past few days, one aspect of the audit — that the Springboks had not met transformation targets in 2023 — was used for sensational headlines about the Boks falling short. 

In 2023, the Springboks’ transformation target was set at 54% for “generic black players” — which includes black and coloured players — of whom 27% had to be “ethnically black players”. 

In the Rugby Championship, the Bok team consisted of 39% “generically black” players, of whom 13% were ethnic black players. During the successful Rugby World Cup 2023 campaign in France, the Boks used 38% “generically black” players — 16% of whom were ethnic black players. 

The reality is that the STDP 2030 document looks at transformation much more broadly than simply through the prism of the Springboks. 

In simple terms, had Siya Kolisi, Lukhanyo Am and Makazole Mapimpi been fit all season, transformation targets would have been met. They are valued members of the squad anyway. 

High performance 

Yet the Boks’ transformation numbers on any given Saturday is not the overriding goal. Meeting targets for the targets’ sake is not transformation, Saru has a much broader view of the concept.

 “Yes, we have targets for the Springboks in demographics, but we also have performance targets which we will not compromise, and we are definitely tracking in the right direction on both fronts,” Saru president Mark Alexander said. 

“Misleading headlines are making a mountain out of a mole-heap regarding the transformation outburst in the media, but our organisation has a much broader lens through which to view the state of play. 

“Inclusion is as equally crucial as is diversity, as it ensures that everyone is treated equally and has a voice in the team environment. 

“Our commitment extends beyond diverse representation; we are dedicated to fostering an inclusive culture where every player, regardless of their background, feels valued and heard.  

“The Springboks are the best players available in any calendar year to represent our country — they reflect the funnel of available talent and real progress is being made in creating opportunities and new heroes for every community.  

“The Springbok team have contributed positively to social cohesion in our country. The recent honorary doctorate received by Rassie Erasmus was well-deserved, because he understands what it means to be a South African. He picks players based on what they can bring to the team and their commitment to one another.” 

Vision and a plan 

Saru’s annual transformation audit, which was recently presented to its members shows an organisation with a vision and a plan. 

The issue of the transformation of rugby has been a constant companion of the sport for more than 30 years. 

And to be frank, until a new direction was taken in 2015, it was a problem because of the slow pace of transformation across the entire rugby community. 

Using a “National Barometer” that “serves the purpose of enhancing accountability within national sports federation structures, fostering a more informed, strategic, and forward-looking approach to transformation,” Saru has made strides. 

The audit noted: “The lowest point was arguably in 2016, when the sports minister publicly expressed governmental frustration with the sluggish pace of transformation, leading to the revocation of hosting mega-events bidding rights for Saru, Athletics South Africa, Cricket South Africa, and Netball South Africa. 

“Following the comprehensive audit for 2023, Saru’s National Barometer performance in selected transformation categories reflects an actual achievement of 86%. 

“In response to concerns about the transformation performance of the national side in 2015, Saru took proactive steps guided by transparency and forward-thinking,” the overview in the 206-page audit continued. 

“This strategic approach aimed to address historical imbalances and promote change both on and off the field, culminating in the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) in April 2015. 

“The introduction of the Strategic Transformation Plan (STP) in 2015 laid the groundwork for the approval of the Strategic Transformation Development Plan 2030 (STDP 2030) in August 2019. 

“The commencement of the transformation audit for STDP 2030 in 2023 marked the first year of Cycle Three, signalling the ongoing commitment to achieving self-determined targets and bridging gaps by 2030.” 

The knee-jerk reaction to the audit was that the Springboks had failed in their transformation targets. But the reality is far more mundane — this is just an annual stock-take if you like, not a punitive document. 

Nothing contained in it was surprising to the 15 member unions that make up Saru because they are constantly given report cards on how their transformation is progressing. 

Every week, Saru issues updated reports of transformation numbers for all its national teams (when they are playing), from the Boks down to the junior women’s team. 

More importantly, when it comes to all competitions, from the United Rugby Championship to the SA Under-18 Craven Week, these stats are compiled weekly and shared with the unions. No union is unaware of where it stands, where it is doing well and where it needs to improve. 

“The STDP is a process with a finishing line in 2030. The annual reports are our way of measuring progress, celebrating success and noting areas for eventual improvement,” Alexander said.

“Transformation is a process, and when you turn on the television and watch rugby at all levels, it is very easy to see the progress we are making on the field. 

“What you don’t see are the other areas of diversity and inclusion that are advancing at a rapid pace and are covered by the STDP 2030, which focuses on access to the game, skills and capacity development, demographic representation, performance, community development and social responsibility, and corporate governance. 

“That improvement is nowhere more obvious than at the level of our national teams where we have made ground-breaking strides under the leadership of Rassie Erasmus.” DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Troy Marshall says:

    Rugby is one of those games where team-mates really play for each other. A multi-racial South African team has won two world cups in a row yet racial accusations are been made? Do me a favour.
    There is racism going on, but it’s coming from those who see value in upsetting white supporters of Springbok rugby.

    • Tumelo Tumelo says:

      Its rather staggering that a certain section South Africa honestly believes the past horrors visited upon the majority of this country were simply erased in 1994- particularly ignoring the basis of that organised disrespect was colour. The fact that you cannot recognise this simple aspect- and its effects- about the lives of so many in this country is frankly telling.

      • Troy Marshall says:

        What are you trying to say? What is “telling”?

        Nelson Mandela spent 27 years locked up – did he use his suffering to justify intolerance or did he show us we should embrace diversity?

        There are South Africans who will never support the Springboks. It’s got nothing to do with the racial composition of the side. It’s the sport popular with most white South Africans, and that’s the only reason it’s been attacked.

        It’s 21/05/2024 – we get one life – you need to let go and learn from the past, not live in it

        • Tumelo Tumelo says:

          What I am saying this kind of argument (especially the victimhood you posit) leaves us with the absurd and illogical conclusion that Apartheid is the only crime against humanity, along with centuries of dehumanising disrespect, which lasted for decades but did not leave any legacy of suffering. It just ended and vanished- no trace of it, physical or psychological, can be found today. The great Mandela whom you are so eager to insert into education fought Apartheid and its legacy- please do not sanitise history in this manner. Once again, I honestly cannot believe I need to say this once more- educate yourself, this wilful ignorance is staggering.

          • Troy Marshall says:

            In 1994 there were a lot of school children that did not have access to decent sporting facilities – that was the governments fault
            In 2024 there are a lot of school children that do not have access to decent sporting facilities – that is the governments fault
            Politicians blaming sporting bodies for this; blaming white people for this; this is nonsense; not having it.

            You are implying that I have sentiments that I don’t. For the record – I don’t like Donald Trump; don’t care for his supporters. I don’t like Juju: don’t care for his supporters.
            I have a right to speak out against political hypocrisy – if that somehow adds to a legacy of suffering, so be it.
            Do yourself a favour. When you construct an argument, counter (if you can) what has been said

  • M D Fraser says:

    Would be very interesting to see the same statistics for soccer in South Africa ?

    • Tumelo Tumelo says:

      In the 100 years of organised football in this country were non-black players ever barred from participating alongside black players? The answer is no- the truth is it was the non-black who segregated it and themselves leading to black, coloured and Indian associations. So by this indisputable fact, it should be apparent you are positing a false equivalence- a lie. I hope you too will educate yourself and stop with this wilful ignorance.

      • M D Fraser says:

        Precisely the reply I expected. You are so one-dimensional.
        All I was pointing out is that no one is doing anything to try and correct this, whilst they are trying so hard to correct it in rugby and other sports.

  • Mr OK says:

    SA Rugby have produced back to back world champions, a true marker of excellence and success.
    Transforming our sports in South Africa to be more inclusive and representative of our population is now a 30 year old problem. The ANC government and Ministry of sport has consistently failed the citizens of South Africa in this department.
    The planning and development has been disastrous and one can only blame poor implementation of policies for the failure of grassroots programs and implementation of these policies with a long term view of creating a sustainable pool of talent that will represent our country today and in the future.
    Fast tracking players by means of transformation targets and quotas is a flawed system and it creates more problems than solutions.
    Investing time effort and finances in grassroots programs for schools, clubs and communities, the talent will emerge naturally.
    At national level only merit should apply.
    I firmly believe it’s what all players aim for irrespective of the colour of their skin, to be the best option because they earned it.
    This political grandstanding culture of moaning about transformation targets not being met is a damning indictment of governments failures to deliver in sports development.
    They can only blame themselves but as narrow minded narcissist politicians they cannot accept accountability for their own failures.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted


This article is free to read.

Sign up for free or sign in to continue reading.

Unlike our competitors, we don’t force you to pay to read the news but we do need your email address to make your experience better.

Nearly there! Create a password to finish signing up with us:

Please enter your password or get a sign in link if you’ve forgotten

Open Sesame! Thanks for signing up.

A South African Hero: You

There’s a 99.7% chance that this isn’t for you. Only 0.3% of our readers have responded to this call for action.

Those 0.3% of our readers are our hidden heroes, who are fuelling our work and impacting the lives of every South African in doing so. They’re the people who contribute to keep Daily Maverick free for all, including you.

The equation is quite simple: the more members we have, the more reporting and investigations we can do, and the greater the impact on the country.

Be part of that 0.3%. Be a Maverick. Be a Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

MavericKids vol 3

How can a child learn to read if they don't have a book?

81% of South African children aged 10 can't read for meaning. You can help by pre-ordering a copy of MavericKids.

For every copy sold we will donate a copy to Gift of The Givers for children in need of reading support.