Besides the shape of the ball, soccer and rugby were once famously distinguished by the fact that soccer was described as "a game for gentlemen played by hooligans" while rugby was "a game for hooligans played by gentlemen".
In the modern era this distinction has blurred as both games are now played at the highest levels by professionals. In South Africa the two football codes have even more in common with both sports administered by a bunch of bungling amateurs who more often than not behave like hooligans.
While for the time being soccer administrators are being forced to clean up their act while preparing for the World Cup in 2010, rugby’s rulers appear to be hell-bent on continuing their destruction of the gentlemanly game.
And while there can be no argument whatsoever that the mass exodus of talent to European clubs after the Rugby World Cup in France next month as well as the transformation of the sport are critical issues in need of urgent redress, how the rugby authorities are going about it are just two more examples of abject miss-management.
Automatic disqualification of a rugby player from being picked for South Africa if he is contracted to an overseas club was a typically petulant, arrogant and dictatorial decision that has justifiably raised the ire of the players’ association and could even end up with SARU falling foul of the law.
The unilateral imposition of a transformation quota system for Currie Cup and Super 14 teams leading up to the inclusion of 12 black players (seven of them in the starting line-up) in the national squad for the Rugby World Cup in 2011 was equally ill-advised.
It does not appear to have occurred to the rugby authorities that these two issues can be directly linked – that if a world-class white player elects to play his rugby at home for the next four years he could still miss out for selection in 2011 simply because of the colour of his skin.
The question of professionalism and the freedom of any talented sportsman (regardless of the colour of his skin) to ply his trade to the highest bidder was dealt with by soccer many years ago. So-called "foreign-based" players of every nationality playing for clubs in every corner of the globe can be selected for their national teams. And their availability for selection is guaranteed by FIFA. Rugby should follow soccer’s example and turn to the IRB to set the rules.
Steeped in pure politics, the question of transformation is a much more difficult issue to deal with and certainly does not lend itself to interference by the IRB.
Instead, SARU should be focussed on the sport at grassroots level – developing the game with support from the government and private sector sponsors at schools, throughout all tertiary education institutions and into the vast pool of apparently untapped talent wasting away in the armed forces, correctional services and even the police.
Based on this limitless reservoir of talent and the potential to uncover and accelerate transformation goals in situations where the demographics of national representation are already well established would be far more productive than trying to impose quotas almost as an afterthought at a national or professional franchise level where merit should be the only criteria.
– David Bryant