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May Ashwin Willemse's stand finally break the camel's back

2018-05-21 18:49
Ashwin Willemse (Gallo Images)

Ashwin Willemse (Gallo Images)

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Brenden Ruiter

Early on Sunday morning I get a Facebook message from my friend in Australia: "Two former South Africans almost hit each other in front of church just now. It had something to do with rugby at home. Do you know something?"

I really wanted to explain to him what was going on, but I first had to figure out what side of the developing Ashwin Willemse saga I was on. You see, moments after Ashwin put his papers down (not threw it down), took off his microphone (not yanked it off) and calmly walked out of the studio (not stormed off) South Africans drew their lines in the sand. You were either for or against Ashwin.

Sadly, the two sides soon became divided along colour lines. On the one side were the brown guys who shouted that it was high time that someone took a stand against racism. On the other side were the white guys who claimed, "chip on his shoulder" and "race card!" One only has to look at social media to see how the incident made an ugly race sore burst open in all its infectious glory.

I will leave it to each person to go and see what has been written, because I can use this space and platform better.

At the time of writing this it was still unclear what led to one of the most respected rugby commentators accusing his co-commentators of "patronising" behaviour on live TV. SuperSport is apparently investigating the matter, but none of the parties involved have said anything yet.

So, which side am I on? I stand on the side of those who've had enough of the sport that they love being held to ransom by those who think rugby is their birth right; the guys who believe that anyone who is not white wants to steal this right.

South African rugby has been an emotional topic ever since someone decided years ago that you need to have a certain skin colour to represent your country. After Nelson Mandela was freed we heard how we must become one in rugby, but that was a farce.

The wool was pulled over brown and black people's eyes when one player of colour was included in the winning World Cup team of 1995. Chester Williams' face was put on every lamp post to create the impression that we could now all play ball together, but it was a smoke screen.

For years after that, the oldest trick in the book has been repeatedly played when specks of colour were included in the Springbok team selection. Players of colour were so grateful when they made the team that they completely forgot about the rest who were not seen as equals.

For as long as this historical injustice is not stamped out, stadiums will remain empty and supporter groups like the Cape Crusaders will retain their right to exist.

I refuse to give the q-word any legitimacy, so I won't use it here; that word that reduces every non-white player to a lesser human every time it's used. Is it not time for the white colleagues of these players to stand up and say their teammates are not there because the colour of their skin is right but because they are just as good if not better than the white guys? I say white players have to do this, because every time a brown player says something he has a "chip on his soldier" or plays the "race card".

White supporters also have to pipe up when their friends make patronising comments around the braai or on chat groups and say that we all only have one goal in sight and that is to make South African rugby the best in the world again.

New Zealand realised early on that by only selecting one race group they weakened their teams. Why is their rugby miles better than anything we can put together? Because everyone gets an equal opportunity to play for their national team and is supported along the way to get there.

Jake White, the man who coached the Boks when they last won the World Cup recently wrote in an opinion piece how the new coach should select black players for the unimportant game against Wales in America. Then, the wise White reckons, he can choose his best (read: mainly white) players against the English team. This way, he can appease government and say that he chose enough players of colour during the season. Wala!

What does all of this have to do with Ashwin Willemse, you ask? Everything, because the fact that he could do what he did on live television may just be that cathartic moment our rugby loving country needs to make sure that we are all equal before the rugby gods.

Where do I stand? I stand on the side of equal opportunity for everyone. Just like the white guy who almost hit another guy in front of the church in Australia because he used Ashwin's name and the q-word in the same sentence.

- Brenden Ruiter is a journalist at Tygerburger.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    ashwin willemse  |  rugby
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