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OPINION: Black rugby coaches still sit at the back of the coaches box

Former Springboks coach Allister Coetzee speaks during a press conference in November 2017. ,
Former Springboks coach Allister Coetzee speaks during a press conference in November 2017. ,
Image: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

Equality‚ or lack thereof‚ remains in the spotlight in the National Football League (NFL) in the United States.

Of the 32 head coaches in the American Football’s NFL only eight come from a minority grouping. That’s the joint highest tally ever.

Despite remedial steps initiated as far back as 2003 with the introduction of the Rooney Rule‚ the impact has been minimal. The Rule dictates that at least one minority coach has to be interviewed when a position for head coach‚ or senior operational post becomes available in NFL teams.

Currently 75 percent of head coaches are white‚ while the same racial demographic only represents 30 percent of the player base‚ The Guardian reported.

Moreover‚ minority coaches are largely employed on defence‚ while their white colleagues tend to get roped in as offense masterminds.

Those statistics will resonate with black rugby coaches in this country. While the clamour for greater black representation on the field is starting to yield results‚ black coaches still tend to sit at the back of the coaches box‚ or they carry messengers and water bottles. They are almost anonymous. (How many black assistant-coaches can you name from this year’s Super Rugby competition?)

This is not surprising when you consider that in the major executive decision-making positions‚ no black representation exists.

None of the chief executives‚ head coaches or directors of rugby/high performance managers at our Super Rugby franchises are black.

That in itself isn’t surprising because at HQ (SA Rugby)‚ no black representation exist in those key positions either.

No wonder black coaches are crying foul at being black balled by the system.

Peter de Villiers vented his frustration after his stint with the Springboks‚ although the colour of his skin may not have been his biggest career impediment.

There has indubitably‚ however‚ been a systematic depravation of opportunities for black coaches‚ especially when you consider that in 23 editions of Super Rugby‚ only Chester Williams‚ Allister Coetzee and Deon Davids have made it to the position of head coach.

Needless to say‚ the current crop of black coaches is having a tough time breaking the ceiling. Their careers tend to plateau as either assistant‚ age group or academy coach‚ while the door to the development manager’s office has their name on it.

Jerome Paarwater‚ Denzil Frans‚ Kaya Malotana‚ Deon Kayser‚ Dewey Swartbooi‚ Timmy Goodwin‚ John Williams‚ Etienne Fynn‚ Vuyo Zangqa‚ Mac Masina‚ Jonathan Mokuena‚ Ricardo Laubscher‚ Eric Sauls and Lawrence Sephaka among others‚ have all been part of a system that failed to grasp the full context of their wider deployment.

Former Springboks like Quinton Davids‚ Bolla Conradie‚ McNeil Hendricks and former SA Schools captain Sean Plaatjies‚ despite their pedigree as players‚ have had it tough trying to break into the coaching scene. Others‚ from more pedigreed backgrounds and who are better connected‚ have seamlessly transitioned from gum guard to walkie-talkie.

But even if you are in the system‚ there are no guarantees.

At the Lions‚ Joey Mongalo not too long ago appeared upwardly mobile. His progress this season has been stunted. A court case against him in Australia provided a potential stumbling block‚ but the Lions overlooked him as head coach in the Currie Cup because they felt their taciturn strength and conditioning coach had more going for him.

In the Cape‚ Stormers assistant-coach Paul Treu’s grievances with Western Province are now the subject of an ‘independent’ investigation.

Despite outgoing WP president Thelo Wakefield’s best efforts‚ the Treu case is one that is unlikely to go away in a hurry. His complaints cut deeper than the squeals of a man being deprived an equal voice in a coaching huddle.

Treu is principled‚ as he is educated‚ and it is moot whether the findings of a WP appointed ‘independent’ company will bring the recourse he is seeking.

His fight‚ and that of other black coaches‚ isn’t just for a more equitable slice of the trimmings that come with being a head coach‚ but the dignity and respect that goes along with it.

If they are not recognised locally‚ how on earth are they going to compete on an equal footing for jobs abroad‚ or even at this country’s top schools where an even deeper system of patronage is at play?

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