Why, in SA, can’t we enjoy rugby without getting into a scrum?

Ideas

Why, in SA, can’t we enjoy rugby without getting into a scrum?

FREE TO READ | It’s odd, the political madness around rugby in this country

Columnist

What is it about rugby that drives South Africans crazy? If you want to experience national hysteria about race, manhood and wars fought more than a century ago, you do not look to netball, tennis, hockey or even the beautiful game, as the great Pele once dubbed soccer; you find it in a sport played with an oval ball reputedly made of pig’s bladder, squashed between 15 brutish men on each side. Squeal! It’s odd, this political madness around rugby, for its roots lie in colonial Britain, but it is the Boers who since the early 20th century rallied patriotic sentiment and ethnic passions “to beat them at their own game”.

Panyaza Lesufi is an ambitious political hack with a keen eye for racial discrimination. He made the huge mistake of calling out a South African draped in the national flag at Yokohama Stadium in Japan this past weekend. SA was playing Wales for a place in the rugby championship final when Lesufi’s sharp eye noticed the exposed white and orange strips of a flag on a white man’s body. Instantly, our education chief in Gauteng tweeted: “That flag, unfortunately is spoiling it! This team @Springboks belong to all of us. Let’s avoid hurting each other unnecessarily.” Our eager beaver had to apologise, as subsequent video stills showed that it was, in fact, the new flag that the poor fan was so proud to wrap around his frame.

To be fair, this obsession with rugby and race runs on both sides of the colour line. Who can forget the despicable headline of an Afrikaans Sunday paper (translated): “Damien Allende [the Springbok centre] is Coloured” and then covering their racist behinds with the subheading “but does it matter?” Race and rugby are joined at the hip. In 2003, a white player, Geo Cronje, refused to share a room and a toilet with his black teammate, Quinton Davids, just as the rugby team was about to depart for the World Cup in Australia. And just before this team left for Japan, another team forward, Eben Etzebeth, was accused of using a racial slur against four black men in the coastal town of Langebaan before fixing a gun on a homeless soul. But the roots of rugby’s belligerence lie way back in the past...

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