Springboks’ De Villiers as Coach

Springboks LogoPeter de Villiers Springboks CoachAnother move for equality

Peter de Villiers has been named as the first black coach of the rugby union world champions South African Spingboks. Coming on the heels of the World Cup victory (in October 2007), this is quite a move. And, after just having posted about Norway’s historic move to increase the presence of women on corporate boards, this news from South Africa represents another very strong statement in creating an equitable world. I add a prior post about Cheeky Watson for some background context for RSA rugby.

A controversial decision

Currently the successful coach of the Springboks’ under-21, Peter de Villiers (right courtesy of Getty Images) takes over from Jake White, who led the Springboks to victory in the World Cup. Jack White, whose contract expired at the end of 2007, goes out with the highest distinction, although on an acrimonious ending (dispute with the SARU). That de Villiers led the under-21s to the IRB world title in 2005 is certainly a worthy achievement. He also produced a third place finish in 2004, a second-place finish to the hosts in France in 2006 and, last year, coached the Emerging Springbok side to the IRB Nations Cup title in Romania. All very good results. Nonetheless, the decision to select de Villiers trumped a vote of 77% by the South African Rugby Players’ Association (SARPA) in favor of the acclaimed Pretoria Bulls Super 14 coach, Heyneke Meyer, raised eyebrows. It is worth noting that of the two other candidates, there was also Chester Williams, a black Springboks’ winger who participated in the Boks’ 1995 RWC victory.

Rugby Reasons

Being upfront about the political nature of the appointment, South African Rugby Union (SARU) president Oregan Hoskins said in a press conference, “I want to be honest with South Africa and say that the appointment was not entirely made for rugby reasons.” As the UK Times says, de Villiers’ request to fans to look beyond the colour of his skin was undermined by Hoskins, when he said that race had been a determining factor. We’ll have to see how the governing organizations get behind him.

Certainly, given the lopsided presence of white players in the national rugby team, it is time that RSA rugby reflected and took advantage of the great pool of athletes from their entire population. De Villiers has created history by becoming the first black person in the role. I hope that he is able to produce good results — it is hard yet to imagine that RSA will replicate in 2011 its IRB World Cup. That said, de Villiers’ contract is only for two years! I will be curious to see if/how he includes Cheeky Watson’s son, Luke Watson, in the Springboks team.

In any event, I salute the decision and wish the Springboks success with this landmark decision.

Others blogging on the topic, although I notice a dearth of personal commentary outside of the RSA blogs:

KEO.CO.ZA – the official online partner to SA Rugby (and Cricket) – tons of threads including:
De Villiers wants Meyer in the mix
The Return of Quotas
Ou Grote (South African Rugby News)
Rugby Heaven (NZ rugby blog)
22 Drop-Out
Bruin Developement Forum

News articles on the appointment:
BBC report
ABC from Australia
Scrum
UK Times on Line

Visit to Hanoi Vietnam – Part 1

Hanoi Vietnam MapVisit to Hanoi Vietnam- Part 1 of a 3 part recount:

For my first piece on Vietnam, I thought I’d start with a general overview. If nothing else, it’s a number of facts that you may or may not have been aware of. In parts 2 and 3, I will elaborate more on my experience in Hanoi. Happy trails… For more info, see the CIA World Factbook.

The Vietnamese economy has grown at an estimated 8% this year. The population has grown 1% over the last two years, but down from +1.5% in 2000, giving Vietnam now 85 million people. This makes Vietnam the 12th most populated country in the world. The recent spate of growth is obviously manifesting itself most intensely in the urban centers which, through poor city development planning, are overrun. And what makes the heavy population so much more impressive is the fact that the livable. flat (i.e. non mountainous) portion of Vietnam is so condensed (around Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh). The Communist one-party non-democratic government has clearly merged to a more red-capitalist form of economy, with the language of State Planning (5-year plans, etc.) still very present in ironic counterpoint to the Vietnamese stock market (inaugurated in July 2000) which continues through its early growth pains.

The 5-year planning committee for urban development, however, has clearly not been vigilant or effective. In Ho-Chi-Minh (HCM), there have been random if not gratuitous conversions of streets into one-way streets, which has caused traffic swells to be diverted onto the ancillary roads. Traffic hour(s) in Hanoi are nothing short of impressive. Somewhat reassuringly, the English language newspaper (“Viet Nam News”) was able to voice some criticism about these developments. I was concerned that the poor level of transparency in the press might not allow for such open discussions. It is clear that criticizing politics remains a very tenuous if not dangerous activity. The corruption is apparently rife throughout the Vietnamese apparatchik.

Rich diversity in Vietnam

There are 54 different ethnicities in Vietnam, dominated by the Viet people with 86% of the total. [I would note that I did not see one single black person throughout my visit.] The population remains largely rural (estimated at around 25%, up from 15% in 1960 and 20% in 1995). Sixty percent of the Vietnamese population is under 30 years old. This fact alone creates a unique vibrancy to the country (and to Hanoi in particular). Given the rampant population growth, the government has imposed a limit of up to 2 babies for couples in cities. However, many couples are prepared to pay the fines imposed for having more – especially if it means to have a baby boy. In the countryside, where the agricultural activity is extensive and remains labor-intensive, the families continue to have large families to support the manual labor demands and ensure the future safekeeping of the older generations. The export in rice, in particular, is very strong. And while the trade is booming in many areas, the lack of a solid infrastructure is surely problematic for continued, efficient growth. From raw materials to Hanoi Vietnamfinished goods, the most common form of transportation is two-wheeled, providing ample photo opportunities. During the course of my visit, I witnessed on the back of various motorcycles the following cargo: a dead pig [the size of a buffalo if you ask me -- see picture left], a set of 6 cages carrying close to 50 cats (destined for the Chinese tables), a huge glass pane between two riders, six television sets… Endless diversion, if also a sad state of affairs.

The standard of living in Vietnam is clearly on the rise. In recognition of the increase in the GDP (expected to surpass $3,300 per capita next year), Vietnam will move up to a middle income developing country in 2008, two years ahead of schedule, as Vietnam’s President Nguyen Minh Triet just announced (Dec 4, 2007 Vietnam News). Wages are, that said, not entirely set by the free market. The government lays down the “framework” for salaries, based on three types of work: rural, city and Foreign-Investment. The annual wage for the latter category is set at 1 million Vietnamese dong, or about $800USD.

This trip to Vietnam was a true eye opener. A wonderful hospitality and kindness among all the people I met. A true pleasure.

Rendez vous tomorrow for next part. Tam Biet (goodbye in Vietnamese)