‘I literally was competing only with white players’ – Jonty Rhodes

South Africa

Jonty Rhodes, the former South Africa batsman, has admitted that he might not have been picked to play for his country had it not been for white privilege.

“I certainly benefited from the fact that I wasn’t really competing with 50% of the population,” Rhodes said in a recent interaction with The Hindu, Deccan Herald and The New Indian Express in Bengaluru. “I literally was competing only with the white players.

“You talk about white privilege and it raises a lot of heat and debate on social media but it is the case. I’m very aware of that. My cricketing statistics as a player were very average when I was selected.

“If I was competing with the rest of the country then possibly I wouldn’t have been picked. And I would not have been diving around the field.”

Rhodes was part of the first, mostly white generation of post-Apartheid South Africa internationals. The racial composition of the team has changed in the years since, with quotas coming into place for players of colour. The current transformation target for the national team is for six players of colour, including two black Africans, to feature per match, averaged over a season.

Rhodes is in full support of transformation quotas.

“We in South Africa have a legacy of apartheid,” he said. “How many generations does it take to address that? You still have disadvantaged communities based on race. So they might have political freedom but they don’t have economic freedom.”

The process of transformation hasn’t been straightforward, with several players, mostly white, giving up on playing for South Africa in order to take up lucrative Kolpak contracts in English county cricket. This has led to a depletion in the pool of talent and experience, particularly at domestic level, which may be one of the reasons behind South Africa’s poor results over recent months.

Since the start of 2019, they have lost a home Test series to Sri Lanka, failed to get past the league stage of the ODI World Cup in England, and suffered a 3-0 Test whitewash on their tour of India. They currently trail England 2-1 in a Test series at home.

Rugby has had a smoother ride with transformation, and a Springboks team led by Siya Kolisi, their first black captain, and featuring six players of colour, won last year’s World Cup in Japan. Rhodes believes rugby has done a better job than cricket has of reaching out to disadvantaged communities in South Africa.

“The biggest question for me is why in over 20 years have we not produced opportunities for young players in disadvantaged communities,” he said. “It’s not about racism. It’s about equal opportunity and that’s not happening.

“What rugby has done well is in building their structures, working in disadvantaged areas. Cricket has a lot to learn.”

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