SA Rugby vows to ‘own up’ and address black players’ grievances

Sport

SA Rugby vows to ‘own up’ and address black players’ grievances

It's time for those uncomfortable conversations about systemic and integrated discrimination, says Jurie Roux

Journalist
SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux speaks to the media from Cape Town on June 8 2020.
Virtual realities SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux speaks to the media from Cape Town on June 8 2020.
Image: Gallo Images/Grant Pitcher

SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux declared on Tuesday that they intend to take steps to address the grievances of black players in the sport.

In what can be seen as the strongest Black Lives Matter statement from any of SA’s sporting federations‚ Roux said in a virtual press conference that the sport needed to own up and deal with uncomfortable conversations that have emanated from black players.

Last week a group of 49 black former rugby players and coaches threw their weight behind Proteas cricketer Lungi Ngidi and the BLM movement. The fast bowler had called for his teammates to take a stand against racism the next time they came together as a team.

“In terms of Black Lives Matter‚ specifically and the issues [Black Lives Matter‚ farm murders‚ gender-based violence] that are currently on the table‚ I think we need to own up in terms of those conversations and not steer away from them‚” Roux said.

“The first thing we need to do is to let people tell their stories‚ but more importantly we have to listen to those stories and hear what they are saying. That’s always been the issue.

“Let people voice what they believe is wrong. We’ve got to listen to those stories and we have to believe what they’re saying. We have to continue the dialogue and we have to figure it out together.

Maybe some elements we may need to change‚ especially around the coaches. Rassie Erasmus did present us with the plan around the fast-tracking of black coaches.
Jurie Roux

“If we have to adapt things to help figure things out‚ then we have to do that. What we shouldn’t do is to steer away from the uncomfortable conversations and the things people refer to as the awkward truth. Those are the realities of our lives.”

Roux candidly acknowledged that SA rugby has had a sordid past with racial inequalities‚ but said they had taken steps to try to remedy this.

However‚ incidents of racial discrimination have occurred and whether they’ve been dealt with accordingly by the various unions has been a topic of hot debate.

Telling stories

One of the current issues plaguing SA rugby is the lack of black representation in senior coaching structures. SA’s Super Rugby and Pro14 franchises don’t have black head coaches.

“Maybe some elements we may need to change‚ especially around the coaches. Rassie Erasmus did present us with the plan around the fast-tracking of black coaches‚” Roux said.

"We’ll look at that plan more seriously and we’ll address the issues that are there. We need to provide people with an opportunity to tell their stories and those stories are beyond coaches.

“We’re the first to acknowledge that things have gone wrong in the past. I also believe we’re the first to have stepped up and shown the intent and the direction we want to take.

“In terms of dialogue‚ a process will follow that’ll listen to the concerns, and our executive will advise on what is the way forward within that environment.”

Roux also said challenging their existing systems will be an integral part of dealing with systemic and integrated discrimination.

“These are serious matters that transcend way beyond sport and they are part of our daily lives. There are people who are voicing their concerns.

“We have to take them and listen to what they’re saying‚ and we have to look at where we stand in terms of those concerns. Are our players significantly robust enough to address those concerns?

“If they need to be changed‚ we’ll go back to our executive and unions and say, yes‚ we have agreed on the following. Yes we are happy with what we are doing. Yes we are happy with the progress we’ve made, but we’ve consistently said that we don’t celebrate progress‚ we acknowledge progress. We’ll celebrate when we have success.”