None of this is news to black sports journalists

Ideas

None of this is news to black sports journalists

While black players faced discrimination, some of us experienced it while trying to do our jobs

Journalist
The media are not to blame when Cricket SA comes apart at the seams.
WORN OUT The media are not to blame when Cricket SA comes apart at the seams.
Image: 123RF/PhotosIndia.com LLC

Over the past week, former and current elite black sportsmen such as Makhaya Ntini, Siya Kolisi, Ashwell Prince, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Ethy Mbhalati, as well as coaches, confirmed what we always knew about cricket and rugby: institutionalised racism in these widely followed sporting codes has hurt many talented black players and shattered their dreams.

Clear evidence has been the tortoise speed of transformation in cricket and rugby, where senior national teams are still overwhelmingly dominated by white players and coaches.

Despite the majority of people in our country being black, we are nowhere near a situation where the Proteas and Springboks field equal or more black players than white in a Test match or at a major tournament.

That is because the systematic discriminatory system intentionally suppresses black talent at every level, as has been highlighted by some of the former players and coaches.

By the way, it is not only black players, coaches and administrators who have been on the receiving end of racism.

Ntini, Kolisi, Prince, Tsotsobe, Ralepelle, Mbhalati and many others told their heartbreaking stories of discrimination and touched on some incidents over the years.

Unfortunately black players in the system still experience the same discrimination as those who came before them because there is simply no will to transform. 

Cricket and rugby have antidiscrimination committees, but the truth is, they have not done enough to protect the rights and advance the careers of talented and deserving black players and coaches.

There are many young players who are disgruntled by the system that overlooks them despite deserving opportunities purely on merit and coaches who deserve to be elevated based on experience.  

A number of white players have come out to support Lungi Ngidi and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement over the past week, and their stand is commendable.

But I believe it would be more helpful for them to come out and tell us what they saw and heard in the dressing-room, on the team bus, at breakfast or dinner where black players were marginalised.

Cricket and rugby are team sports, and the experiences of Ntini, Kolisi, Prince, Tsotsobe, Mbhalati, Ralepelle and many others happened in front of their white teammates, and some of them were complicit in perpetuating discrimination.

It is the same with white-owned companies that have expressed support for the BLM movement with tweets on social media but continued to deny job opportunities to qualified young black professionals and had no diversity on their boards.

I would like to hear from current and former captains and coaches administrators on what they saw, heard and what they did when black players complained formally or informally about discrimination.

Releasing statements and posting support for the BLM movement on social media unfortunately does not cut it. What matters is what actions they took to protect black players and coaches.

Boeta Dippenaar, Pat Symcox and many other white players shared the dressing-room with the likes of Ntini, Prince and Tsotsobe at the Proteas at some point and probably benefited from their marginalisation.

But they (Dippenaar and Symcox) saw it fit to rubbish Lungi Ngidi when he called for Cricket SA (CSA) to acknowledge and support the BLM movement.

By the way, it is not only black players, coaches and administrators who have been on the receiving end of racism. Even black journalists have experienced it from fans in places such as Loftus.

I have been attending matches at Loftus since the early 2000s, and my early experiences were not pleasant because of white fans, and sometimes police make you feel unwelcome.

I experienced discrimination with former colleagues Vata Ngobeni and Lefty Shivambu, where white fans often taunted us in Afrikaans that “sokker is in Mamelodi” when they saw us around the stadium to cover rugby games there.

In one incident around 2004, white policemen found Ngobeni and me waiting for a taxi outside Loftus to go back to the office. They searched us, found laptops in our bags and wanted to arrest us.

They roughed us up insisting we stole the laptops from the cars, and it was only after we produced media accreditation cards that they let us go. I’m sure if we were white we would not have gone through that frightening experience.

As junior reporters, Ngobeni, Shivambu and I covered school sports at white schools around Pretoria, and our experiences were not always pleasant because most of the parents and pupils would always give us funny looks.

I must add the teachers were generally helpful and welcoming, and it was mainly parents who had a bad attitude.

While black players were experiencing their challenges, even some of us journalists experienced discrimination of our own while trying to do our jobs. The time has come to share what we went through.

Most of these things continue to happen and that is why some find it a joke when it is said the Springboks’ Rugby World Cup win in Japan united the country.

Unity will only be realised the day Black Lives Matter. Until then we can go on fooling ourselves.