Has the time come for separate stands for home and away supporters at rugby matches?

2013-04-06 00:00

EVERY time the Stormers play the Crusaders there is a big old kerfuffle over the notorious “Cape Crusaders”.

Those all loved up by their roots insist that the only way to watch rugby is to support the team from where you are born, and even rugby players are outraged at being booed off their own bus.

Of course, patriotism is largely manufactured, and if sponsors had their way, countries would probably be franchised and people would care less about supporting the place they are from.

The same goes for supporting the province you were born in.

It’s sport. Everybody has the free will to pick a team and stick with them , whether those reasons are political or because some folks prefer to be behind a side who are constantly winning games.

The same goes for booing other teams. Spectators have for decades tried their best to emulate cows during matches and the Newlands faithful are notorious for their booing when the opposition tries to kick towards the poles.

It’s nasty and disrespectful, but it’s still free choice.

The problem, though, comes when the choice of support is based on little other than to rile the opposition.

Last Saturday night at Newlands was unlike anything I have experienced before. There were pockets of people looking to cause disharmony and some who seemed to get a thrill out of getting under the skin of Stormers supporters.

The atmosphere at Newlands was hostile. While there were people in Crusaders shirts happy to mix with their mates in Province jerseys, there were the troublemakers, yapping in the ears of those in Stormers jerseys around them or standing up, arms outstretched, displaying their All Blacks jerseys for all to see when the Crusaders scored.

That kind of arms aloft, twirling in the air, inviting insult behaviour is enough to make your skin crawl.

A few rows in front of me, a man in a New Zealand shirt had his ear bent by his neighbour, who was wearing a Province shirt. It was all good banter, but the man in the All Blacks shirt eventually decided he’d had enough cajoling that he support the Stormers and got up and left.

It was simple and there was no animosity, as it should be when it comes to supporters of two opposing teams meeting in such a hostile environment.

Banter and rivalry are part and parcel of sport; they often enhance the experience. But with an increasing culture of violence in sport these days, those who are trying to cause trouble are like a boiling pot left on an overheating stove.

What once was, and still could be, a means of valid political protest has now become a blemish on what could be a flourishing multicultural society.

Sport, as Hollywood would make you believe, has the ability to unite a people divided, but now the only option left, in rugby in particular, seems to be to divide in order to prevent tensions bubbling over into potential tragedy.

A simple solution of setting up an away-supporters’ stand for games with the potential to get explosive could be a solution. This is not to ostracise anyone; it’s simply a matter of safety, similar to the rules followed by football.

Fifa, for instance, insist that the fans of two opposing teams be kept as far apart other as possible and partitions are put up, with the away fans having their own entry point. The route to this entry point should cross as few of the routes used by other spectators as possible.

Such a measure would be difficult to police and it would have to be mandatory at all matches in order to prevent the feeling of segregation. However, as tensions continue to escalate in the stands of mixed supporters, it seems to be one of the few options left.

It might seem harsh, but it’s commonplace in many other sports, and if nothing else, at least it will ease growing tensions and eventually weed out those who are so desperately seeking attention by antagonising others.

• Ant Sims is a freelance writer who covers mainly soccer and cricket for The Daily Maverick … or anybody else who will have her.

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