South Africa’s Pro Sports Still Have Racial Quotas

Much was made about Mississippi finally giving in to inevitable pressure and accepting the Emancipation Proclamation a few years ago. Good timing on that, now that the U.S. is about to inaugurate an African-American President (some Barack Obama guy?). Unfortunately, South Africa hasn’t really caught up yet, as it turns out they’re still using the athletic equivalent of Jim Crow laws to pick their cricket teams.

Herschelle Gibbs

(Herschelle Gibbs: South African cricket’s Rosa Parks.)

It’s true, and we had no idea, either, until we found this story about the country finally abandoning its race-based selection on STUFF.CO.NZ, which cites the South African teams improved performance when it — brace yourself for this one — picked athletes based on talent and ability rather than the color of their skin.

Of course, the fact that the surging South African cricket team currently has seven non-white players among its 15-man squad isn’t enough to make Cricket South Africa, the sport’s governing body in the country, pull the trigger on overall “merit-based selection” overnight. No, CSA is insisting on phasing the policy in over three years, sticking to the slightly less-shocking “target-transformation policy,” a quota system that places four non-white players on every cricket team.

It’s almost as if the CSA never read about Jackie Robinson, or noticed that, you know, South Africa itself has been run by African Presidents practically from the moment revolutionary hero Nelson Mandela was released from prison.

Tenielle Gibbs

(Wait, Rosa Parks had a hot wife?)

In fact, that’s one of the most shocking considerations when you step back from the story and marvel at the fact that South African cricket teams are still chosen based on race. How the hell had African Presidents of the country failed to step in and insist on change? It’s not like South African rugby is based on racist selection tenets, and the last time we checked, they were the world champions.

Then again, change does have to come slowly. The South African team was still entirely white until 1998, when the sport’s governing body forced selectors — basically institutional coaches who choose the team — to pick Herschelle Gibbs, a black batsman (who happens to make up half of a high-profile yet deteriorating public soap opera of a bi-racial marriage that is not too hard on the eyes). Since then there the sport has had three racial flashpoints which, while they aren’t exactly the Montgomery Bus Boycott, have changed the complexion of the sport while also strengthening the stratified divisions within cricket in South Africa.

In 2002, white batsman Jacques Rudolph (as if he could have been anything but lilywhite with that name) was dropped the day of a test match for a “coloured batsman,” leading to Rudolph’s abandonment of his team for a county side in England. That incident followed the defection of current England captain Eric Pieterso, who said he left South Africa in 2000 because he was, essentially, a cricket victim of reverse-racism.

That all led up to a battle royale last February, when the CSA President refused to sign off on the national team because it didn’t include enough “coloured players.” That’s the same side that’s heading to Australia next week challenging the Aussies for one of the world’s top rankings.

So what happens next? In theory, cricket teams actually won’t be picked on racist principles, or picked on quota systems that are basically a poor man’s affirmative action. And maybe they’ll be better teams, as a result. Let’s hope so. After all, the last thing we need is more Mississippi in sports. We’ve got enough of that with Ole Miss and Mississippi State already.