'Apartheid lives on' in S African sport

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NOW THAT the West Indies team is playing in South Africa, one can see why the local cricket authorities were prepared to go through days of fraught negotiations over money in hotel rooms at Heathrow airport.

One of the reasons the United Cricket Board of South Africa was desperate to have the pay dispute resolved was the their awareness that the West Indies would be seen as role models for young black players. The arrival of Brian Lara and his team has indeed engendered higher than usual interest among South Africa's growing number of black cricket enthusiasts.

But the tour has had another, completely unforeseen, result: it has highlighted the absence of black players representing South Africa at cricket and many other sports. As elections approach next year, the issue is fast becoming highly political.

As the second test began in Port Elizabeth, Lulu Xingwana, head of the African National Congress-dominated parliamentary committee on sport, waded in. "Our government," she said, "is tired of apologising internationally for all-white teams that are supposed to represent South Africa."

Since their admission to the international arena, sporting codes were given a chance to transform themselves, said Ms Xingwana. But while many had committed themselves to change, "both the rugby and cricket national teams remain lily-white, despite their much publicised development programmes in previously disadvantaged communities. We have a lot of able black sportsmen who can match a lot of players in the current national teams, but they are not selected".

Those who had been picked and had proved themselves were constantly forced to warm the substitutes' bench and carry drinks to the other players, she said, adding that sport had become "the last bastion of apartheid".

Ms Xingwana said the ANC would ensure that parliament adopted legislation "to entrench transformation of all sports codes". This seemed to raise the possibility of black players appearing in the South African rugby or cricket teams by law, especially as the ANC complained that Makhaya Ntini and Paul Adams, both recently in the national cricket side, had been dropped "for the flimsiest of reasons". Bob Woolmer, the Springbok coach, replied that they were out of form; Ntini himself said black players should gain their place on merit. "Players of colour who have made it have earned it," he said. "But it seems that they could be going to select those who are not quite ready. That would be wrong."

The day after Ms Xingwana's broadside, the sports minister, Steve Tshwete, made it clear that legislation was not planned. But a national sports commission will "ensure that the principles of affirmative action in sport are advanced". The commission would streamline sports administration in South Africa and spearhead fund-raising, using private-sector and public funding.

There is little more the party can do: the sports ministry is the smallest and worst-funded in the government, and relies largely on private sponsors. South Africa's ambitions to host international showcases such as the Olympic Games in 2004 - a bid lost to Athens last year - and the football World Cup in 2006 depend greatly on support from business, which has traditionally worked closely with the sports administrators now being criticised by the government.

While opposition parties are calling on the ANC to keep out of sport, at least one top administrator, the United Cricket Board's managing director, Ali Bacher, acknowledges that racial integration in sport is unsatisfactory. The cricket board recently agreed that national selectors will be expected to ensure a greater mix in the South African dressing room. A special committee will have the right to overrule selectors if it suspects that they did not apply their minds to demographics. When a match can no longer affect the outcome of a series, the committee can also compel the selectors to include players of colour.

After South Africa won the first test against the West Indies at a canter, a Coloured (mixed-race) player, Herschelle Gibbs, was hurriedly included in the team for the current test as selectors responded to the new regime.

Match report, page 13, Section 2