Quotas…Again

Well, it didn’t take too long for the good feeling of the Proteas World Cup run and #ProteaFire to come crashing down.  Just after the semi-final loss to New Zealand there was noise that Vernon Philander was selected over Kyle Abbott because of racial quotas. Cricket South Africa and Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula were quick to deny that there was any type of racial quota being observed in the selection for the match.  Mbalula has reiterated his stance that quotas played no part in Philander’s selection on Monday.

On Tuesday morning it was reported in Afrikaans-language newspaper, Die Burger, that in the early hours of the morning on the day of the semi-final, Haroon Lorgat, CEO of Cricket South Africa, told coach Russell Domingo that another player of color had to be selected to play (in addition to Imran Tahir, JP Duminy, and Hashim Amla).  According to Die Burger, the option was Vernon Philander over Kyle Abbott or Farhaan Berhardien over Rilee Rossouw.  The article goes on to say that a furious AB de Villiers and Vernon Philander refused to play, yet were forced to do so.

Die Burger article: http://www.netwerk24.com/nuus/2015-03-31-laatnag-sms-aan-proteas

South Africa has a long history with quotas and one could argue that they did not begin in cricket in the 1990s, but actually with the exclusion by the apartheid regime of Basil D’Oliveira, a Cape Coloured. D’Oliveira went on to play first-class cricket for England and was named one of the Wisden Cricketers of the Year in 1967.  The current set of post-1994 sporting quotas were ended roughly a decade ago, but in the last year have crept back in with rugby reintroducing them at the lower domestic levels.

Quotas in cricket have the ability to cause three types of harm simultaneously.  They push out deserving, qualified players such as arguably the greatest English batsman of the past century, the Pietermaritzburg-born, Kevin Pietersen.  In addition they make fans and qualified players of color question their own inclusion.  The most damaging part of the quota system is the false sense of actual, long-term transformation.  The South African Government has attempted to push through these quotas at the highest level, and as reported, on the biggest stage, when they ought to be investing in transforming and growing the game at the grass roots level in rural and urban areas.  Investing in building cricket infrastructure in townships and promoting it at the earliest ages amongst previously disadvantaged groups is how you build sustainable and long-term transformation in the make up of the Proteas, not by simply “window dressing” as quotas do now.

This is not to say that Vernon Philander is not a worthy cricket player either.  In fact, his 6.50 economy in the semi-final was better than Dale Steyn’s 8.60 and Morne Morkel’s 6.55.  Philander is an excellent player both for club and country, but if his inclusion in the semi-final was due to governmental interference rather than the selection by coach and captain then it is wrong, and it appears he agreed that it was.

Of course the sad irony in all of this is that with five runs needed off the two remaining balls, New Zealand made sure to have Grant Elliott on strike.  The Johannesburg-born, St. Stithians-educated Grant Elliott, who left South Africa because of the quota system. His massive six smashed into the Auckland night sent his adopted home to the Cricket World Cup Final, while the Proteas crashed out of another World Cup just short of glory.

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