Cricketing authorities in South Africa have introduced a quota system under which the presence of at least one black African player on professional and amateur clubs will be guaranteed.
Cricket South Africa (CSA), the body that governs the sport in the black-majority nation, announced that under the new policy, effective Oct. 16, the start of the new domestic season, professional franchises must field at least one black African player, while amateur teams must have at least two on the roster.
As an incentive, teams with more than one black African player performing in 70 percent of their matches will be reimbursed by an amount equivalent to the average contract cost of said players, ESPN CricInfo reported.
"These new requirements are incentive-based, not quota-based," Haroon Lorgat, the CSA’s chief executive, noted. "We have a very talented population. We have all embraced the need to accelerate transformation."
Haroon added, "The CSA Board has also supported a recommendation from the Cricket committee to implement a more flexible player loan agreement to facilitate the development of black African players.”
The CSA had cited a report stating that most young black youths who play cricket tend to give up the sport at the provincial level before the age of 19. Even those blacks who are able to join teams, tend to play very little.
"Everybody agreed that we have failed in terms of black African players and that drastic measures must be taken," Norman Arendse, CSA's lead independent director, told ESPNcricinfo.
However, Lorgat assured the quota would not apply to the composition of the current national team.
Geoff Toyana, the coach of the Highveld Lions, one of six domestic cricket clubs, and the only black African franchise coach, lauded the new quota.
“It is important for us as a nation to have a black African playing Test cricket, so we as franchise coaches have to support and back talented black African cricketers at franchise level,” he stated.
“We are supportive of transformation in South African cricket,” said Tony Irish, chairman of the South African Cricket Association (SACA), the official players' union and collective representative of the country’s professional and semi-professional cricketers, according to the ANI news agency.
“The main thing for us, though, is how it is implemented, whether it is immediate or progressive,” Irish said. “Quota numbers are always a concern for us, and here I am talking about hard and fast numbers, because it relates to selection and selection affects all players, regardless of race. From experience, we know individual black African players will view it as an opportunity, while others will want to prove their sense of belonging.”
More than 20 years after the fall of Apartheid, blacks remain under-represented in cricket, a popular sport in a nation where blacks account for some 80 percent of the population.
Since South Africa was permitted to participate in international competition in 1991, only five blacks have reached the “Test” status (that is, they have played at the highest level).
Makhaya Ntini is probably the most accomplished black South African cricketer, having played in more than 100 Test matches. Four other blacks, Mfuneko Ngam, Thami Tsolekile, Monde Zondeki and Lonwabo Tsotsobe, have played in only 17 matches.
The national test team has not had a black player since January 2011.
"There are two obvious reasons why we don't see as many black African players coming through,” Arendse explained. “One is the socio-economic conditions facing black African youngsters compared to their counterparts, especially as cricket is still very much a middle-class game. And the other is downright racism. There is enough black African talent but it seems to get lost."
South African cricket has legislated racial quotas before, however, in an effort to alleviate the legacy of the apartheid system.
In 1998, each cricket club was mandated to field four non-white players (including those of black, mixed race and Asian descent). But that decree was lifted in 2007.
South Africa has six domestic cricket teams: Highveld Lions, Chevrolet Warriors, Chevrolet Knights, Sunfoil Dolphins, The Unlimited Titans and Nashua Mobile Cape Cobras
ESPN CricInfo reported that all the teams, excluding the Cobras (which only has one black player), will be able to meet the quota requirements immediately. The Dolphins and Knights each have two black African players, the Titans have three, the Warriors four and the Lions have seven.
Cricket clubs have 11 players on the field (although the roster can be larger).
However, many South African cricket fans are unhappy with the new quota requirements.
Sport24 reported that about 73 percent of their readers who expressed comments about the development were outraged, citing, among other things, that players should be selected exclusively on merit and talent, not race. Others noted that Asians and “Colored” were not covered by quotas. Only 7 percent of respondents applauded the quota.
"What sort of message do you send out? To put the quotas in place, are you telling black players that they'll be given a chance even if they [can’t] make the team?" thundered a reader named Hendri van Wyk.
Another commenter named Chris scolded the CSA. "This is nonsense. 1994 is nearly 20 years past," he said.
A reader named Oliver Platelli threatened that he will now boycott the sport. Another reader, named Omge Klits, questioned the legality of the quota. "Someone explain to me how this is constitutional -- it's downright illegal and racist,” Klits wrote. “You cannot create a new injustice in the process of addressing an old one."
Reader Andre Van Rensburg lamented: "It just sends the wrong message, you don't have to be good enough just black enough. Never mind being into democracy for 20 years. I feel sorry for the white players missing out and just as sorry for all the black players."
But some sports law/business experts told International Business Times that while such quotas would be unheard of in the U.S., they seem justified in South Africa, given its history of virulent racial discrimination.
“I think such quotas are legitimate as a form of compensation for past racial injustices in South Africa,” said Marc Edelman, an associate professor of law at Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College, part of the City University of New York.
Mark Conrad, associate professor of law and director of the sports business program at Fordham University's Gabelli School of Business, also told IB Times that a quota in South African cricket may serve to alleviate past discriminations and encourage more diversity in the sport.
However, Edelman noted that if such racial quotas were imposed on U.S. pro sports clubs, such a measure would spark outrage and lawsuits, charging a violation of equal rights and anti-trust statutes.
Of course, prior to 1947, under an unofficial “gentleman’s agreement,” Major League Baseball clubs discriminated against black players until Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
“I think it’s interesting that the climate in contemporary South Africa is somewhat similar to the U.S. just prior to 1947,” Edelman added.
“If Rickey had not signed Robinson then, who knows when the color line would have been broken in baseball?”
Stephen F. Ross, a professor of law and director of Penn State Institute for Sports Law, Policy, and Research, noted that he is not familiar enough with the particular facts of domestic cricket in South Africa to assess whether the quota is justifiable or not. But he said that South Africa specifically recognizes that quotas designed to remedy past discrimination are permitted under its constitution.
Ross explained that the history of cricket has been characterized by selections for national and sub-national teams based on subjective criteria that often mask racial prejudice.
“Because [South African] domestic cricket teams are not, as with U.S. baseball teams, run by private owners with the goal of making money, it is entirely possible that subjective selection decisions over the past years have rendered the choices discriminatory, and quotas are therefore necessary,” he said.
Ross also speculated that CSA likely wants to attract more emerging middle-class blacks to a sport that has long been the preserve of the white minority, and, in recent years, of Asians.
“They have a keen interest in expanding the base to include black players,” Ross stated. “However, each individual club selector’s interest, even if they are not being discriminatory, is in fielding the best team this year. Because domestic cricket is not economically self-sufficient but relies on subsidies from CSA, it is justified for the national governing board to impose this quota.”
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.