x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Tutu criticises Springboks ‘selection of black players as peripheral squad members’

Desmond Tutu has expressed his wish for a South Africa rugby union side that best represents the 'full spectrum of the rainbow that defines us'.

The Archbishop Desmond Tutu is shown at an event in London in February 2010. Sang Tan / AP / February 8, 2010
The Archbishop Desmond Tutu is shown at an event in London in February 2010. Sang Tan / AP / February 8, 2010

South Africa’s Springboks should include more black players, Nobel peace prize laureate and leading anti-apartheid campaigner Desmond Tutu said Friday.

The widely-respected former Anglican archbishop criticised what he called the “tortoise pace” at which racial integration has taken place in the national team since the end of apartheid 20 years ago.

“Particularly hurtful is the selection of black players as peripheral squad members, never given the chance to settle down and earn their spurs,” he said in a letter to the Cape Times.

The Springboks, who are ranked as No 2 in the world, play Argentina on Saturday with two black Africans on the bench but none in the starting 15.

Three players of mixed race – known in the country as “coloureds” – will start the game alongside 12 whites.

The straight-talking cleric’s words echo a government study published in April that found South African sport remains divided two decades after white minority rule ended.

Rugby and cricket teams had to boost the number of black players threefold to reach the 50 per cent representation target, according to the study.

South Africa deserved a Springbok team that was representative of the “full spectrum of the rainbow that defines us – not on the basis of quotas or affirmative action or window-dressing, but on merit and for our long-term well-being as a nation,” Tutu said.

He pointed out that under apartheid’s racist system Springboks rugby had symbolised the “apartness” between the white minority and the black majority.

“When our liberation came, there were many who said we should never call our team ‘Springboks’ again, the very name was too painful.”

But, he said, former president Nelson Mandela “recognised sport’s transformative and healing power, famously embracing our World Cup winners at Ellis Park in 1995”.

“As a society we need to understand that embracing one another is neither a political imperative nor political correctness.

“It is a critical ingredient to effect our long-term healing,” Tutu wrote.

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