Don’t kick rugby debate into touch
Willemse’s walkout is an opportunity to have a broader discussion about attitudes in rugby circles
It took courage for former Springbok rugby player Ashwin Willemse to walk out of SuperSport’s TV studio on the weekend, after accusing his fellow rugby analysts of patronising him.
This is what he said: "I’ve played this game for a long time, like all of us here, you know. And as a player I was labelled a quota player for a long time ... and I’ve worked hard to earn my own respect in this game.
"So I’m not going to be patronised by two individuals who have played in the apartheid, segregated era and come and want to undermine [other people]."
Willemse was referring to fellow analysts Nick Mallett and Naas Botha.
His walkout, lauded and derided in SA this week, is a response to the subtle prejudices many people face every day. Willemse’s protest is against the treatment meted out to him as a rugby player, as well as a professional in the studio.
The incident highlights the problems in the sport.
Willemse isn’t the only black Bok to have been labelled a quota player. Siya Kolisi and Elton Jantjies are still viewed in that way by some — despite both having played in their 100th Super Rugby match this month and having records of excellence in the sport.
SuperSport has since said that the incident was not "racially motivated", but that it will be discussed further.
That should be the first step. The worst that could happen would be for this matter to be buried with an internal probe, without digging into the wider attitudes in SA rugby.