Anger erupted at the weekend as the Mpumalanga Sunbirds were forced to forfeit a victory in the Telkom Netball League. The Sunbirds played the entire second quarter 6/1 (meaning they fielded six black players and one white) which goes against the leagues transformation rules that aim to ensure that playing teams reflect the demographics of the country.
They were up against the Kingdom Queens in the first division B semi-final and initially won 43-42, but have now forfeited the match according to rules 3.6 and 3.7 of the tournament. But what was the anger about? There were six black players on court and that’s what we want, right? Not quite…Sanani and I explain why. To get an understanding of why this rule exists in the first place, one has to take a walk back in time to the transformation charter forecast and actual performance report released by Netball South Africa in 2015.
In that charter, Netball SA detailed the state of affairs in Netball in terms of racial representation at board level, financial committee level, team make up and player game time on the pitch. At that time the racial representation numbers were nothing less than shocking

National And Underage Team Demographic Forecasts 2014-2018


At the time, in 2014, there was only 33% black board representation, 33% of black finance committee representation, 55% of all senior female national team members were black, only 10.4% of registered referees or umpires were black and so on. All of this in a country where black people make up 80% of the population. This white dominance at senior level and in decision making structures, showed in the squads which South Africa assembled and put out for competitions.
Further down the line in the 2016/2017 EPG Transformation Status report which is a government report into transformation in sport, Netball was only 50% compliant, having met only nine of the eighteen targets set. Notably, the areas where netball had not provided data for consideration in the government survey were in senior team selection and underage team selection. One could argue that these are the easiest metrics to provide data for as it is quite easy to track how many black players have been selected for teams. It’s no coincidence that data wasn’t provided because netball did not comply where it matters most!

Sporting Federation Targets 2016/17


When the transformation rules were put in place, they were met with anger from some quarters but were largely welcomed. The rules required that each team have a certain number of players of each demographic in their make up, that management structures should be balanced and that players be given game time to ensure that they not only make up the numbers but actually get to play. At least that is what the intention was but it hasn’t always happened.

If one looks through the squads that have represented South Africa in recent years, you would really have to wonder if a transformation charter exists at all. The 2016 squad that faced Wales in the Spar Challenge for example had only four of the players being black. The 2018 Commonwealth games squad had the exact same make up with only four black players and even the 2019 World Cup squad had the same. It looks like four is the appeasement number for South African netball and the players of colour being picked are part of a futile window dressing exercise.
So why do we still support what happened with the Sunbirds this weekend? Nothing much has changed in terms of quotas and the Sunbirds actually had above the quota of allotted black players on court so they are exceeding their targets right? Wrong! The rules are meant to ensure that the quota is adhered to all the time regardless of the level at which the team is playing. Whether its a regional game or the national team. The fact that our national teams have tended to rotate four black players and largely have at least five white players on court at a time is an indictment to the administrators meant to enforce the rules. When the rules aren’t enforced at regional or provincial level, how can we complain when they aren’t enforced at national level and we don’t see a change in the number of people representing our country? We can’t.
Some have had complaints about other teams who have played unbalanced teams at previous provincial or national tournaments and not faced the same sanction as the Sunbirds. The Kingdom Stars in particular seem to have a particular bone to pick with administrators but complaints can’t be lodged retrospectively and in the main, rules to sanction teams who don’t reflect the demographics of the country are absolutely valid. The issue is the consistent implementation which has been patchy at best.
Netball SA has a progressive set of laws and should continue to implement them strictly to ensure that make up of the teams changes and set an example for other federations to follow suit.