Four of South Africa's leading sports federations were on Monday banned by the sports minister from bidding for or hosting major international events for at least a year over their failures to create enough opportunities for black players.
Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula made the announcement after receiving a report on "transformation" in South Africa's five biggest sports: Rugby, cricket, soccer, athletics and netball.
More than two decades after the end of apartheid, rugby, cricket, athletics and netball all missed targets they agreed on with the government. Soccer was the only one to meet its target.
"I have therefore resolved to revoke the privilege of Athletics South Africa (ASA), Cricket South Africa (CSA), Netball South Africa (NSA) and South African rugby (SARU) to host and bid for major and mega international tournaments," Mbalula said in a statement.
The ban comes into effect immediately. Mbalula said he will review his decision when he has received the results of the federations' transformation efforts for 2016-17. That could be at the end of next year, or maybe only in early 2018.
The South African government has been pushing for years for the country's main sports — especially rugby and cricket — to create more opportunities for black players. It's now 22 years since the end of apartheid's system of minority white rule and those two sports are still generally dominated by whites despite the fact that blacks make up over 80 percent of South Africa's population.
Racially transforming South African sport was "morally" and "strategically" right, Mbalula said, given the demographics of the country. Yet, there is fierce debate in South Africa over the fairness of some of the transformation policies that demand that domestic rugby and cricket teams select a certain number of black players over others for every game.
All five federations agreed on various transformation targets with the government in 2015. Those agreements involved getting more black players involved at school, age-group and club level, right up to provincial and national level.
The sports ministry also intends to agree on transformation targets with another 14 South African sports federations, including swimming, where South Africa has had success at the Olympics.
The South African Rugby Union said it "acknowledged" the findings of the report and the sanction imposed by Mbalula.
"There is no question that we have more work to do and we could be moving faster, but our sport has undergone a major overhaul in how we do business and how we measure ourselves in the past two or three years, and we have definitely made great progress," SARU chief executive Jurie Roux said in a statement.
The ban won't affect regular tournaments in South Africa like Super Rugby and the four-nation Rugby Championship, Roux said.
However, it complicates South Africa's intention to bid for the 2023 Rugby World Cup. World Rugby will release tender documents to interested countries in May, and countries must formally confirm their intention to bid in June.
South Africa, host in 1995, has been trying to hold the Rugby World Cup again since 2011 but failed in three successive bids. Under the decision announced by Mbalula on Monday, SARU wouldn't be allowed to bid for 2023. SARU said it hoped it might have its right to bid reinstated by Mbalula following a meeting of the transformation report's authors in November. It may then be able to bid for the World Cup before the window closes next year, it said.
Both the rugby and cricket federations said their officials — possibly shocked by Mbalula's announcement — went into closed-door meetings with sports ministry officials. Cricket South Africa declined to comment immediately. Athletics South Africa said it would need to study the "pronouncement" made by Mbalula before commenting.
Rugby is the only one of the sports seeking to host a major event in the near future. Mbalula's decision should not affect the 2022 Commonwealth Games, which has already been awarded to Durban. The Commonwealth bid was led by the South African Olympic committee.
Mbalula said he had the power to completely withdraw recognition for a federation over transformation, but he stopped short of that. That could have prevented South African athletes and rugby players from competing at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.