Tim Spirit: Xenophobic attacks just not good sportsmanship

2015-04-19 15:00

Forget the unsporting conduct of hosts Congo-Brazzaville every time a South African soccer team competes against them.

It is the nearest that sport comes to xenophobia and is an affront to long-held sporting codes.

One of South Africa’s most unifying factors has been sport. It has proven in the past that it can forge unity, particularly in a country with different races and religions.

Sport has contributed immensely towards the development of the game here, whether on the playing field or in the boardroom.

As a form of entertainment it is loved for its own sake, with its emphasis on fairness and enjoyment.

It dictates that there will be winners and losers. Sportsmanship means that the loser hugs the victor and says congratulations.

Even in an aggressive game like boxing, the fighters embrace to show sportsmanship and respect

for the final gong, whatever the outcome.

Just think of the Olympic Games, it’s a festival celebrating sportspeople from all over the world. At the recent Fifa Confederations Cup in Brazil in 2013, the sporting world further showed its appreciation of all players when the hopelessly outclassed Tahiti took to the field.

It is with these images in mind that I call upon South Africa to consider staging a sports festival for Africa. I believe this would be a fitting celebration of the continent and a clear indication that we say, “No to Xenophobia”.

After all, we celebrated with the continent when Ghana’s Black Stars – oh, so close it was for BaGhana BaGhana – nearly reached the 2010 World Cup semifinals in South Africa.

We cheer Ivorian Yaya Touré for his exploits with Manchester City in England. We are equally supportive of Samuel Eto'o of Cameroon and Didier Drogba of Côte d’Ivoire when they make their African magic globally. And we applauded George Weah of Liberia in his playing days.

Therefore, I ask what has gone wrong for South Africans to turn against their fellow Africans who reside in our country?

What are we suddenly smoking? Sies! It is not a good substance.

I say get all of Africa’s celebrated sports heroes here and let’s show the world we love Africa.

A growing number of sportspeople and organisations throughout the world have sought to intervene in conflict zones and to encourage reconciliation between estranged communities.

A sports festival will go a long way to heal the wounds as we embrace each other.

Sport has been used to promote peacemaking. Think of what Drogba did in 2005 when he begged Ivory Coast’s warring factions to lay down their arms. They listened.

Sport can be used towards the building of a stronger civil society where tolerance and lasting relationships are developed.

Let us not forget players like the Mugeyi twins, William and Wilfred of Zimbabwe, Nigerian Raphael Chukwu, Cameroonian Roger Feutmba, Ernest “Wire” Chirwali – later known as Mtawali – of Malawi.

The list of players who have helped to shape our local game for the good is endless.

Administrators like Britain’s Trevor Phillips and Norwegian Kjetil Siem have also contributed to giving the game a professional outlook.

We are living in a global village – and our players are playing all over the world – Thulani Serero, Steven Pienaar, Lucas Radebe and various youngsters who are scattered around Holland and Belgium.

It is myopic to think South Africa can exist on its own. Attacks on foreigners put our national teams and clubs at risk of being maligned when they venture into Africa.

And the continent will undoubtedly have the right to detest us.

South Africa is already an unpopular country on the continent and these attacks serve only to exacerbate the situation.

To quote the late Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first democratically elected state president: “Sport has the power to change the world?…?it has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand.

“Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”

Let’s stop these barbaric attacks.

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