Derek Charles Catsam is Professor of History and the Kathlyn Cosper Dunagan Professor in the
Humanities at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin and is Senior Research Associate at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa, where he spent 2016 as the Hugh Le May Fellow in the Humanities at Rhodes University in South Africa.. He is the author of Freedom’s Main Line: the Journey of Reconciliation and the Freedom Rides, (2009, paper 2011), Beyond the Pitch: The Spirit, Culture, and Politics of Brazil’s 2014 World Cup (2014) and Bleeding Red: A Red Sox Fan’s Diary of the 2004 Season (2005). He is currently working on books on bus boycotts in the United States and South Africa in the 1940s and 1950s and on the 1981 South African national rugby team’s tour to the United States.
Rugby Transformation as Alibi: Thoughts on Craven and Coetzee
In April 2016 the ANC government’s Sports minister Fikile Mbalula decided to get tough with four sports bodies, cricket, netball, athletics, and rugby, for their lack of progress in achieving racial transformation. There had long been debates about various forms of transformation in sport with government part of the discussions. But this was the clearest gnashing of teeth on the part of the government, with Mbalula announcing that the four codes would be prohibited from bidding for hosting duties for international events for their respective codes. Perhaps all sporting codes were equal in Mbalula’s announcement, but rugby was quite clearly more equal than others. South African Rugby Union (SARU) was in the process of preparing to bid to host the 2023 World Cup, a bid that is up in the air.
In May 2016 former Stormers coach Alister Coetzee took the helm of the Springboks, becoming South Africa’s second black Springbok coach after Pieter De Villiers, who served a somewhat stormy tenure from 2008 to 2011 despite some marked successes and a few failures, in keeping with the Springbok coaching experience since 1994. Coetzee had success not only on the pitch but, he also had led the way in transformation at the Super Rugby level. This combination of success in the win column and his clear determination to help change the face of Springbok rugby made him the ideal coach for the “poisoned chalice” that is the Springbok coaching position. Coetzee’s struggles in his first year at the helm have forced him to face many of the same alibis pushing back against transformation that have endured for decades in a country where sport is deeply implicated in politics. This paper looks at transformation in current-day Springbok rugby in the context of the myriad alibis made to resist change.