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Let’s talk about the meaning of ‘merit selection’

Murray Ingram is the co-founder of Connect Sports Academy, the SA Sport Industrys 2016 Development Programme of the Year.

Whenever the subject of transformation targets come up, the term “merit selection” is always thrown around. So, let’s dissect the term “merit selection” and how it is incorrectly applied, in order to undermine transformation efforts.

This week Afriforum and Solidarity filed court papers, challenging the South African Rugby Union (SARU), Cricket South Africa (CSA), Athletics South Africa (ASA) and Netball South Africa (NSA) to defend their agreed racial quotas before the Labour Court. Kallie Kriel, Chief Executive of AfriForum, said: “Merit should be the only criterion in the compilation of sports teams.” In this column I’m not going to discuss racial quotas because I steadfastly believe that they’re a distraction from the real issues in our sport. I also find it staggering that there is consistent outrage about transformation targets, but few are ever outraged that over two decades into democracy, we still have to legislate repatriation. That, however, is a column for another day.

But let’s dissect the term “merit selection” and how it is incorrectly applied, in order to undermine transformation efforts. Merit: to be worthy of, deserve.”

In previous columns I’ve discussed how the shortage of resources and opportunities in townships and less privileged communities hinders the progress of naturally talented athletes. Thousands of potential sports stars are being lost, simply because of an exclusive system that makes it almost impossible for them to succeed. In order to produce a high performance athlete you first need to create a high performance environment. Anybody involved in high level sport will understand this statement. I reiterate this point because it has an impact on what we determine to be merit selection, particularly in the professional environment. Quite simply, numerous athletes, who could quite possibly be more talented than their privileged counterparts, are never being afforded the opportunity to prove themselves in a high performance environment. Where is the merit in that? This is something that white privileged South Africans just can’t seem to get our heads around. The arrogant belief that we are somehow just naturally superior athletes, defies all logic in the context of international sports.

In my relatively short foray into rugby development, I’ve managed to find, or have been found by, an abundance of talented athletes who are almost entirely ignored by the system. In our academy, we have already produced two Western Province junior representatives and four players have recently been selected for their respective WP high performance squads. One of our athletes won a bronze medal in the 100m at the recent National athletics Championships in Durban. We’ve done all of this without any support from the mainstream sporting fraternity – and the large sums of money that come with it.

These are all kids who have never previously been exposed to a high performance environment. They’re just gifted. And because they’re in the right environment, with relatively little effort, their talent has already started to shine. All too often the likes of Afriforum or Solidarity feel entitled to wade into a subject that they don’t really understand or want to understand. Throwing around the term “merit selection”, without ever having to qualify or expand on what they mean by it. In fact, I’d go as far to suggest that Solidarity and Afriforum aren’t in any way qualified to determine what the term means, in the elite sporting context. Until bodies like them are willing to acknowledge how determining factors affect merit selection at the highest level, their arguments will appear to be nothing other than a defence of the interests of those that still benefit from this unjust system, that is the legacy of the apartheid regime.

Personally, I’ve had just about enough of the mudslinging around racial quotas. It’s time for all of us sports lovers to acknowledge the extent of how inequality affects performance. Let’s all commit to making a concerted effort to rectify this from the ground up. Until then, our children will continue to suffer the consequences of our own arrogant entitlement. DM


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