Quota system threatens rather than promotes transformation in sport

It is with grave concern that I publicly respond to the South African Schools Athletics’ directive to impose a new quota system based on the premise that “a minimum of 40% of athletes from previously disadvantaged communities is required for all SASA teams at all levels of competition”.

The Western Cape Government opposes quota systems, particularly in sport as it threatens rather than promotes sustainable transformation. 

Signed by Mr Peppi Olevano, the General Secretary of SASA, the directive prescribes that for high school athletics “A maximum of 3 athletes per event on merit and must qualify; At least 1 athlete per event must be from the previous disadvantaged community which can be the 4th athlete in the event (no qualifying standard needed for this athlete)”. It is indeed worrying that no qualifying standard is required for an athlete to participate at school-level athletics as it demeans their position on the team. Many athletes have already personally attested to not wanting to be a token entry as their inclusion is not based on merit and performance, two key indicators in sporting acumen. 

Instead of imposing quota systems in sport, we need to do the hard yards at grassroots level – providing as much funding, support and opportunities as possible. This is the only sustainable way to achieve transformation in sport. We will not reach our mutual goals through quick fixes and imposed quota systems. The budget allocation, the provisioning of equipment and facilities and affiliation support to sport federations, school sport, transformational projects and major events have and will continue to increase the pool of local talent and make sporting excellence accessible to all. Our flagship MOD programme as part of our After-School Game Changer has made great strides in this regard:

  • Since 2014, we have achieved more than a four-fold increase in learners regularly attending quality after school programmes which makes provision for school sport as well.
  • We have gone from 14 900 learners benefitting in 2014 to 81 100 learners participating regularly in 2018/19.
  • We have gone further to professionalize the sector with almost 500 coaches trained to date and
  • More importantly, there has been a 187% increase in schools registered with the After School Programmes from 118 in 2014 to 571 in 2018.
  • With our very limited budget, we have also increased our funding to local sport organizations by 124% since 2009, with an average of 120 organizations supported at grassroots level each year.

Together with our department and relevant stakeholders, we have proactively partnered to close the gap between community talent and top level structures. As the Western Cape Government, we are mandated to create an enabling environment for access, mass participation, talent identification and skills development towards provincial and South African colours. It would be more beneficial for all involved to increase the pool of talent on ground level within our communities, inclusive of school sport so that provincial clubs do not have to base selection criteria on a quota system but are rather able to select on the athlete’s ability and potential.

To ensure that the Western Cape Government’s objectives are achieved, sport federations have accepted that a sport development, growth and transformation agenda will be followed. Therefore, the following historically disadvantaged sectors of the Western Cape Sport community will be given preference in terms of development programmes: rural areas, youth, women and sport for people with disabilities.

For transformation to flourish sustainably in school athletics, the holistic development of the athlete needs to be taken into consideration. As an alternate to quota systems, national sport structures will have to review their strategy and align it to the objective of increasing mass participation, talent identification and skills development at schools.

Anroux Marais

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