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SA trying to break free of race scrum

Race questions creep in once more after Springboks get new coach and captain.

South African rugby team, the Springboks. Picture: EWN

JOHANNESBURG - South Africa start a home series against England on the weekend with a new coach, new captain and old questions about not doing enough to address the politically sensitive issue of the racial composition of the team.

Former President Nelson Mandela helped turn the Springboks - once the sporting symbols of the white-minority apartheid regime - into models of racial reconciliation when South Africa hosted, and won, the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

Since then, the governing body of South African rugby has made the transformation of the racial composition of its teams a top priority but the overwhelming majority of the Springbok squad new coach Heyneke Meyer named for the England series is white.

His predecessor, Peter de Villiers, said it should not be this way.

"There are more black players who are capable of playing for South Africa than most people think," former Springbok coach De Villiers said in a book released in the past few weeks.

"But before then, many talented young players have fallen through the cracks in the system."

South Africans often speak of a racial divide in sports, with whites playing rugby and blacks playing soccer.

But that breaks down in the southern part of the country where blacks have played rugby for decades and outnumber whites in organised rugby by more than a five to one margin.

Black players from the region face numerous hurdles in climbing the ranks due to a lack of sponsorship for black-majority clubs, white coaches who favour white players and resistance from upper levels of rugby for putting blacks on the field, critics said.

DEVELOP TALENT

The South African Rugby Union (SARU) has spent heavily to promote the game among the black majority and develop talent. While critics acknowledge progress has been made, they add institutional racism is holding back talented black players who could boost the overall level of play in the country.

SARU officials were not immediately available for comment.

At the level of the Springboks, about 70 to 80 percent of its members of the past several years have been white. The team has won two World Cups and been ranked consistently as one of the strongest international sides.

At junior levels, the percentage of non-whites is higher, with the under-21 team winning two world titles and under-19s also taking two.

Blacks make up about 80 percent of the population and whites nearly 10 percent.