I grew up playing rugby in the Orange Free State, as it was then called, in the 50’s. At primary school we played “kaalvoet”. I remember going to play a game against “Senekal Primere skool” and when we arrived there by bus, the local farmers were still using their oxen with a pole, dragging the ground, tied between two oxen, to remove all the cattle dung from the field. I don’t remember who won the game but do remember the hospitality that was offered to us after the game, a “lekker braaivleis” and “koeksusters”, and the local “tannies” caring for the “walking wounded” and the local farmers discussing what local farmers discuss. There was a sense that this game of rugby created communities and community participation. Everywhere I played as a kid I experienced that, and it was a wonderful experience.
That was then during the apartheid years.
I think it is time that SA Rugby recognize that, firstly, rugby, at junior level, is played within communities, and secondly, that the communities are the major stakeholders in rugby, not SA Rugby. These communities make a major investment in rugby on behalf of their children.
In the post-apartheid era, the social communities have changed and are not exclusively white, so the “good/(’bad’) old days” are gone. Now SA Rugby has the opportunity to build a new culture around rugby in this country, and make a great contribution to social change in South Africa, and in my view this is the only way forward, not only for South Africa, but for the great game of rugby.
Return the game to the people who invest in the game at junior level.
If SA Rugby persist in thinking that the game is now only about money, and ignore the investment that parents make in the game on behalf of their children, then that large and strong pool of rugby players could evaporate within a generation. We are seeing it now. Our rugby players and heroes prefer to go overseas and play rugby there. We have some 350 players playing overseas. That is about 20 teams. These players are playing for money and their social senses have been stripped by money, because that is what S A Rugby seems to be all about.
While I acknowledge that rugby has become a professional sport, and I applaud that, S A Rugby is alienating their audience and communities by not having the wisdom to see that there is a gap being created by their broadcasters, because only the rich can afford the pay the exorbitant fees to watch rugby, whereas the rugby audience don’t just want to watch Super Rugby and the Springboks, they also want to watch the schools rugby and the “gewone” non-professional, or semi-professional provincial games.
If S A Rugby persist in alienating their communities, these communities will no longer invest in the game, and neither will they go watch rugby.
S A Rugby have a big opportunity to secure the future of rugby in South Africa, but they can only do that by making rugby more available to communities who invest time and money in the game on behalf of their children. If they chase the big dollar, then rugby is doomed in South Africa.