It’s not only the Springbok team that needs transformation – wheelchair rugby also deserves a fresh, all-encompassing approach.
With the kick-off of the 2015 Rugby World Cup in London just weeks away at the time of writing, transformation has been on many South African rugby fans’ lips. After the announcement of the team, I was as disgruntled as many other patriots about the inclusion of some players and the exclusion of others. The selection controversy was widely featured, from radio and TV news bulletins to social media, with many people urging that it was time for transformation in the make-up of the team, which should be representative of all the demographic groups in South Africa.
Nevertheless, I am hoping that our team will emulate the feat of the Webb Ellis trophy-winning teams of 1995 and 2007. I’m hoping that the coaching staff and selectors have got it right and have included the right mix of talent, skills and race to “do the business” overseas.
The Springboks are not the only South African rugby team that will face tough opposition in London. Our national wheelchair rugby team is also headed there to participate in the BT Games World Wheelchair Rugby tournament at the Copper Box Arena from October 9 to 17, 2015. I have huge admiration for the team that was selected to represent South Africa and wish them well. But I wonder about the transformation that has to take place here too: there are only two members of colour in the team, of which one is a player and the other a team assistant. Why is this? Is the wheelchair rugby team immune to the interrogation and interests of the followers of this sport? Or perhaps this current group of athletes is the best team to represent all rugby-playing South Africans?
We have a very large pool of active players of wheelchair rugby in the country, but not everyone has equal opportunities to excel. Barriers include the lack of funding for transport and equipment, which prevents certain athletes from reaching their full potential. Hence is there a need for transformation of some sort – maybe not the setting of quotas or targets, but surely a collaboration between the two sports codes could be beneficial? Sharing of the resources of South African Rugby Union (SARU) and a transfer of administrative skills could result in a scenario where wheelchair rugby too has a feeder scheme, like Varsity Cup through to Currie Cup and on to Super Rugby and ultimately the national team!
There are numerous athletes who end up playing wheelchair rugby after sustaining injuries in able-bodied rugby. SARU could, I suggest, contribute to South Africa Wheelchair Rugby (SAWCR) as part of its corporate social-responsibility initiative. Forced transformation might not be the answer, but what could happen is a transformation of thinking; encouraging fresh ideas of how SARU and SAWCR could work together in order to improve the lives of many talented athletes in South Africa.
Hopefully one day there will be two top rugby teams competing at the highest level that will make this nation proud.
Raven Benny is the chairperson of QASA. He has been a C5, 6 and 7 quadriplegic since 2000. He is married with five children, is mad about wheelchair rugby and represented South Africa in 2003 and 2005. He also plays for Maties. email: email@example.com