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Proteas fans at The Oval (Lloyd Burnard)
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The Proteas' apparent lackadaisical approach to the World Cup and Faf du Plessis's view of life carrying on afterwards have been disappointing. They should take a leaf out of President Ramaphosa's book, writes Mandy Wiener.
At the start of the ICC Cricket World Cup last month, I bought my 5-year-old an original Proteas supporters' shirt for R700. Pricey, but the real value for me was in instilling in him a passion for the game which I so love and the patriotism of supporting a national team.
South Africans are notoriously fickle fans and I too can be highly critical of our national team, but I've supported them through the multiple heartaches of previous world cups. From the 1999 Allan Donald run-out (why didn't he just run?!) to the Shaun Pollock maths fail in 2003 (damn you, Duckworth and Lewis) and on until that semi-final loss to New Zealand in 2014.
When the Cricket World Cup rolled around again this year, I felt that our chances weren't necessarily great, but as a country we needed the patriotism, the passion and the "gees" that invariably come with backing a team that is competitive. It's been a tough few years for the nation with dire GDP figures, political upheaval, the evisceration of state agencies, the collapse of state-owned entities and the revelation of widespread corruption. We were desperate for a distraction from the multiple inquiries that are running and the ugly political spats between Ace, Cyril and their factions.
The national psyche was struggling and we all know how uplifting sport can be. The research proves it. There are mental health advantages, higher levels of well-being and general happiness from claiming a sports team as your own. Studies show that blood pressure rises during games and testosterone drops after a loss, but "fandom" generally makes you much happier.
According to Murray State University's Daniel Wann, author of Sport Fans: The Psychology and Social Impact Of Spectators, these benefits come from either following a successful team or from merely identifying with them. In short, the community you are part of lifts your spirits. So just supporting the Proteas, even if they don't do well, makes you feel like you are part of something.
That's pretty much the message I was trying to pass on to my son. Every time the Proteas played this month, he has run to put on his supporters' shirt and tried to understand as I've explained the bizarre rules of the game. His favourite question: "Mom, who do we want to win?" Like his mom, he is very competitive.
So it has been quite difficult to explain to him why we keep supporting a losing team. I tell him that the other team is just better than us on the day. What is really difficult to explain though, to both him and to myself, is the way in which our team has been losing. Without a fight and without a hunger to win.
The team's apparent lackadaisical approach to the tournament and Faf du Plessis's view of life carrying on after the World Cup, has been disappointing and underwhelming. Seeing Quinton de Kock sitting barefoot on the balcony at the Lord's Cricket Ground whilst losing to a below average Pakistan team, illustrated it all. The fight was missing.
And that's what we needed as a country to jumpstart our national psyche. In an article in the Wall Street Journal titled, "The Meaning of Joy", sportswriter Jason Gay talks about a viral video of UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi's perfect 10 floor routine. While the technical performance was perfect, the video went viral because of Ohashi's attitude.
Gay explains that people who watch her are "thrilled by it, enchanted by it, wonderstruck by it, moved by it... It's joyful. It's so, so joyful. It radiates warmth and glee." It's the emotional contagion of watching someone do something with passion, enthusiasm and pure joy.
In a way, that is also what President Cyril Ramaphosa was attempting to do at the State of the Nation Address last week. He was seeking to inspire and spark patriotism by dreaming. His approach may not have been well received, but full marks for trying to lift us up as a country when we have become so cynical, so misguided and so distrustful of our politicians.
Banyana Banyana may have lost all their World Cup games this month, but at least they demonstrated to us that they were enjoying themselves and that they were trying. As Bafana Bafana set off on their African Cup of Nations campaign, that's all we ask of them too – that they show some appetite and hunger to win. As a country, we need it now more than ever and I need it to prove to my son why he should keep supporting.
- Wiener is a specialist reporter for News24.
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