This week’s post from South Africa, written by PPI Fellow Taylor Brown, explores the place of rugby in South African sport and society.
With the Rugby World Cup approaching in just 9 days in New Zealand, all eyes in South Africa are on the Springboks, with the hope that they are able to repeat their 2007 Rugby World Cup Championship (held in France). The South African Springboks rugby squad became popularized around the world following the best selling movie “Invictus” (2009), in which Nelson Mandela was played by Oscar Award-Winning actor Morgan Freeman (side note: It was Ann Curry’s interaction with Morgan Freeman during a Nelson Mandela Day Party on July 18th, and his call to community service action and the ’67 minutes slogan’, that prompted Ann and her family’s visit to PPI-SA two weeks ago). The film portrayed the unlikely 1995 Springbok World Cup Championship and the movie’s theme was that sport can unite and inspire individuals of differing background, culture, ethnicity and socioeconomic class. It has been labelled by many as the watershed moment of the South Africa post-apartheid rebuilding process.
Rugby, often thought of as a “white” sport in South Africa, is becoming increasingly more diverse. This is primarily a result of Nelson Mandela’s leadership during his Presidency in proclaiming rugby as a national, non-racially biased sport. Many viewers of “Invictus” may remember Chester, the only black member of the 1995 South African Rugby World Cup team. To this effect, and epitomizing the social and racial evolution of the sport in the last 16 years, the 30-man Springboks roster is now nearly 1/3 non-white. The grassroots development of rugby in Black Township and Rural Areas in South Africa can be credited to South African Rugby Legends; a peer organization of PPI-SA’s, also based in Durban, and led by former Springbok hooker legend, CEO John Allan.
In preparation for the World Cup, South Africa participated in the “Tri-Nations” competition, along with Australia and New Zealand. On Saturday, August 13th, a test match was held at Durban’s Kings Park Stadium between South Africa and Australia. About two hours before kickoff, Ryan Douwie, PPI-SA’s Operations Manager, called me saying he had an extra last minute ticket to the game from a friend, former Springbok player, Gcobani Bobo. Having had two stints Australia, studying abroad in Brisbane and working with the Wollongong Hawks basketball team, attending this game had significant meaning. The diverse, 60,000+ screaming Springbok fans could not have been more excited as they sang their unifying national anthem proudly, embodying the “New South Africa”. Unfortunately, the ‘Boks lost to the Wallabies 14-9 in a heated defensive contest played on a wet pitch, but recovered against the All Blacks a week later in Port Elizabeth, winning 18-5.
Best of luck to the Springboks in the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand!