Politics with badges

2008-10-11 00:00

As the Currie Cup rugby season reaches its climax, Parliamentary Sports Committee chairperson Butana Khompela has again pushed the issue of the springbok emblem to the fore. He wants a common national insignia for all sporting codes and he sees the springbok as symbolic of the apartheid past.

There is logic in having one emblem for all national teams, although that’s not the case in England, rugby’s country of origin. It is also true that many codes have adopted the protea in place of the springbok because of the unhappy associations of its history. Certainly rugby was the favoured game of Afrikaner nationalism, with not only people of colour feeling excluded from representative teams, while the brute power of the Boks seemed to epitomise the vigour of the politically dominant culture.

Things have, however, changed. Twice now have the country’s transforming teams proudly carried Springbok colours to World Cup glory, each time with a triumphant state president declaring the nation’s united support. The photograph of Nelson Mandela in his number six jersey is one of the seminal images of the new South Africa.

Does Khompela have a political agenda different from that of the nation’s great statesman? And have the players themselves been adequately canvassed? Are today’s players embarrassed or thrilled to be donning the Bok jersey? Will changed insignia make the game more appealing to emerging players? That, surely is the real challenge — to extend the game into new communities, not to play politics with badges.

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