Tackling Rugby's White-Only Image

South Africa may have a tough time tackling affirmative action in the sports arena, especially rugby.

Whites consider rugby a last bastion of dominance. Every white boy plays it at school, and it is linked to Afrikaaners' sense of never-say-die toughness. President Nelson Mandela tried to use the sport as an element of national reconciliation by attending the 1995 World Cup won by a South African squad with only one black player. He did so on the promise that officials would encourage racial integration, but they have not done so.

Despite white perceptions, one-third of registered players are nonwhites who have a long, little-acknowledged history in the sport. That's why there was such disgust this month when only four nonwhites were included in the 121 men picked for South African teams in the Super-12 tournament with New Zealand and Australia.

"Perhaps it's time we should insist on a quota system," says Sports Minister Steve Tshwete. He would prefer merit be the sole criterion for team selection but "provincial and national teams fail to reflect the demographic reality of the country."

Mr. Tshwete said he couldn't reveal any plans for affirmative-action legislation. He is embroiled in a court battle with the rugby union over an attempt to launch a judicial inquiry into the sport.

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