Gunning for rugby

2008-11-25 00:00

LAST Saturday the Springboks defeated England at Twickenham 42-6, inflicting the heaviest defeat that the hosts have suffered at home in 136 years. Last year they lifted the Rugby World Cup for the second time since the advent of democracy in 1994. In stark contrast to other sporting codes like soccer which remain largely unchanged, the Springboks have moved from being mainly the preserve of white Afrikaners to racial integration. The team has a black coach in Peter de Villiers and has won 10 of the 14 Test matches played since he took over.

Yet, perversely, the more successful rugby is in transforming itself and in winning, the more it is rhetorically badmouthed by the likes of the Minister of Sport Makhenkesi Stofile and members of the parliamentary portfolio committee on sport, African National Congress MPs Butana Komphela and Cedrick Frolick. Stofile has instructed that the Springbok badge be moved to the right-hand side of the jersey and replaced by a Protea on the left while

Komphela and Frolick have set their sights on taking Durban’s King’s Park and all other rugby stadiums away from rugby.

Ironically Stofile is simultaneously in the news for quite different reasons: the financial mess in his department. He has been rapped over the knuckles by the Auditor General for massive amounts of money misspent or unaccounted for, for not following corporate governance procedure and for paying irregular bonuses.

In sad contrast to Komphela and Frolick’s racist bile, an article last week reviewed a book which examines Nelson Mandela’s role in the 1995 World Cup. The author, John Carlin, points out how in a stroke of Madiba magic, by befriending the beleaguered Springbok, he transformed a high-profile sporting event into a glorious campaign of nation building. What ground have our small-minded politicians lost since those heady days.

It is high time that organised rugby stood up and defended itself against the bully-boy tactics of Stofile, Komphela, Frolick and company. Taking it on the chin is unlikely to achieve anything because it is unlikely that they will ever be satisfied, whatever rugby might do.

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