Ministerial Muddle

It may have been a trifle naughty of the United Cricket Board to release the minutes of the now infamous ‘July 10 meeting’ in which Sports Minister Ngconde Balfour said he “didn’t give a sh*t” about the feelings of prominent black players within South African cricket and then threatened to “disband cricket”, but the decision to make the contents of the meeting public may have been born out of a sense of desperation.

Having spent over 12 months researching the progress of transformation within cricket throughout the entire country, consulted extensively with its 11 affiliates and then taken the decision to disband compulsory race quotas, the cricket board evidently felt frustrated at the apparent determination of the government to treat the decision as though it had been taken lightly.

The general council of the UCB, and its executive committee, were all too aware of the ramifications of the decision to dispense with quotas and that is why they spent so much time ensuring that no voice of dissension went unheard. They heard every point of view and made their choice together.

The union’s president and chief executive may be black (Percy Sonn insists there are no ‘shades’ of black!) but that is, and should be, irrelevant. The most important point is that a democratically elected, autonomous organisation reached a conclusion about a sensitive issue and made a decision to change it.

When Minister Balfour made public comments just 10 days ago insisting that he was “not a forceful man” and that there was “a big difference between force and persuasion” the UCB’s president may have felt sufficiently pressured into telling his side of the story. In his experience, the Minister had been extremely forceful, very personal and even intimidating.

Ironically the Minister accused Sonn of being “flippant and arrogant” although his own language during that meeting suggested the two men were not far apart in their approach to matters of the greatest delicacy.

Balfour explained his comments about not visiting Newlands in order to watch Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher but Makhaya Ntini and Paul Adams instead as being misinterpreted; in fact, he was simply trying to convey his great and justifiable happiness at seeing the two bowlers operating in tandem and, for a session at least, gaining a glorious upper hand over the Aussies in the second Test of last summer. One, almighty, unified hurrah to that. It was goose-bump forming stuff.

Maybe the Minister might like to clarify his comments about the feelings of senior black players in the international and national game, however. Uncomfortable at being described as ‘quota players’, they endorsed the decision to dispense with the labels that were making life so uncomfortable.

Ashwell Prince and Justin Ontong both spoke with some passion about their desire to see the quota system ended last season. Herschelle Gibbs and Adams have also done likewise, as has Makhaya Ntini. The players Balfour quoted in the National Assembly on Thursday as supporting quotas were not named.

Yet the Minister says he doesn’t give a sh*t about their feelings. Somehow that doesn’t seem fair. If one is prepared to take and enjoy the good, as Adams and Ntini provided at Newlands, one must surely be prepared to tolerate and perhaps even try to understand the ‘bad’. Objecting to being called a ‘token’, however, is not bad. It is a demand for sporting recognition as much as Balfour’s own demand was for recognition as an equal human being during his own fighting years.

If the UCB and their affiliates suddenly stop endorsing transformation then there are a hundred ways for Balfour to breath fire down their necks – and may we all encourage him to do so. For the moment, though, much as he and his chief advisor may hate it, they appear to have picked an unfair fight. If he does the decent thing and backs off, he can do so in the safe knowledge that he has made his point and the UCB – and their affiliate unions – know he is not a man to be messed with.

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