Peter de Villiers has been named as the first black coach of the rugby union world champions South African Springboks. Coming on the heels of the World Cup victory (in October 2007), this is quite a move. And, after just having posted about Norway’s historic move to increase the presence of women on corporate boards, this news from South Africa represents another very strong statement in creating an equitable world. I add a prior post about Cheeky Watson for some background context for RSA rugby.
A controversial decision
Currently the successful coach of the Springboks’ under-21, Peter de Villiers (right courtesy of Getty Images) takes over from Jake White, who led the Springboks to victory in the World Cup. Jack White, whose contract expired at the end of 2007, goes out with the highest distinction, although on an acrimonious ending (dispute with the SARU). That de Villiers led the under-21s to the IRB world title in 2005 is certainly a worthy achievement. He also produced a third place finish in 2004, a second-place finish to the hosts in France in 2006 and, last year, coached the Emerging Springbok side to the IRB Nations Cup title in Romania. All very good results. Nonetheless, the decision to select de Villiers trumped a vote of 77% by the South African Rugby Players’ Association (SARPA) in favor of the acclaimed Pretoria Bulls Super 14 coach, Heyneke Meyer, raised eyebrows. It is worth noting that of the two other candidates, there was also Chester Williams, a black Springboks’ winger who participated in the Boks’ 1995 RWC victory.
Being upfront about the political nature of the appointment, South African Rugby Union (SARU) president Oregan Hoskins said in a press conference, “I want to be honest with South Africa and say that the appointment was not entirely made for rugby reasons.” As the UK Times says, de Villiers’ request to fans to look beyond the colour of his skin was undermined by Hoskins, when he said that race had been a determining factor. We’ll have to see how the governing organizations get behind him.
Certainly, given the lopsided presence of white players in the national rugby team, it is time that RSA rugby reflected and took advantage of the great pool of athletes from their entire population. De Villiers has created history by becoming the first black person in the role. I hope that he is able to produce good results — it is hard yet to imagine that RSA will replicate in 2011 its IRB World Cup. That said, de Villiers’ contract is only for two years! I will be curious to see if/how he includes Cheeky Watson’s son, Luke Watson, in the Springboks team.
In any event, I salute the decision and wish the Springboks success with this landmark decision.
Others blogging on the topic, although I notice a dearth of personal commentary outside of the RSA blogs:
KEO.CO.ZA – the official online partner to SA Rugby (and Cricket) – tons of threads including:
De Villiers wants Meyer in the mix…
The Return of Quotas
Ou Grote (South African Rugby News)
Rugby Heaven (NZ rugby blog)
22 Drop-Out (CLEANED)
Bruin Developement Forum
News articles on the appointment:
ABC from Australia
UK Times on Line