Springboks

Coronavirus | Our Bok 2019 heroes must make a noise

Springboks 2019 Rugby World Cup champions (Getty Images)
Springboks 2019 Rugby World Cup champions (Getty Images)

Cameron van der Burgh ... call it confirmation, if it was even needed, to the South African sporting community that nobody is immune from the dangers of the coronavirus.

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Simultaneously, I believe with conviction, it ought to serve as a powerful, additional cue for prominent personalities - and not least the country’s widely-feted, Rugby World Cup 2019-winning Springboks - to start or step up public appeals for doing the right thing in fighting the spread of the disease.


The champion Olympic swimmer, who retired from the sport in 2018 but remains a fit and usually healthy 31, revealed through Twitter (@Cameronvdburgh) at the weekend that he had spent a fortnight battling Covid-19; he is almost undoubtedly the highest-profile South African sportsperson at the time of writing to have fallen victim to it.

Although the effects are easing now, he branded it the worst virus he had ever experienced despite his strong lungs, sports-conscious lifestyle and being young enough to be considered among the least at risk of the illness.

Van der Burgh urged people to “look after (yourselves) ... health comes first ... Covid-19 is no joke”.

While I am among those admitting, to my regret and some shame, to have been a little slow on the uptake until a few days ago, it has become abundantly clear worldwide (to all but the misinformed, stubbornly dissenting and plain selfish) that self-isolation and responsible social distancing are critical methods to eventually flattening the frightening Covid-19 “curve”.

That South Africa, with its conspicuous levels of impoverishment and informal, unavoidably close-quarters living would he particularly vulnerable to the pandemic running riot hardly needs fleshing out.

Against that backdrop, I think the enduringly, strongly celebrated Bok World Cup champions - remember the quite awesome numbers who turned out for the various street parades around the country when great massing of people was still OK? - have a more forceful role to play than they may realise in stimulating awareness around the general principle of human “cocooning” in the current climate.

While taking into account that there are other social platforms, and some may have made use of them, my impromptu trawl of Twitter on Sunday night didn’t do much to convince me yet that the Boks’ RWC personnel are genuinely, collectively “on it” quite yet.

In Britain, by contrast, and admittedly where they are significantly ahead of us in the infestation of the virus, prominent “celebrity” sportspeople from across the range - rugby, cricket, soccer and beyond - have been constructively vocal in urging social distancing.

UK-based much of the time although SA-born, recent England batting superstar Kevin Pietersen, for example, has used his well-known self-assertiveness to good effect over Covid-19.

Like him or not, Pietersen (@kp24) goes out to a huge audience on Twitter: almost four million followers, making him an influencer of considerable magnitude.

So when he puts out a tweet on Sunday (among his many others on the subject) simply, bluntly urging in block letters: “STAY AT HOME! DON’T SOCIALISE!” it should hit home positively to many people.

Undoubtedly, his message would have been appreciated by the increasingly exhausted, hard-pressed but admirably persevering people in varying levels of duty to the National Health Service in the UK.

Just one other example of a really constructive message, I thought, came when I spotted a tweet from Peter Reid, former England soccer midfielder and later manager of multiple clubs like Manchester City, Sunderland and Leeds.

Now 63, but still boasting some 151,000 followers, he posted a photograph of himself visiting his elderly mother on that country’s “Mothering Sunday” ... but drinking a cup of tea outside her window so as to maintain a responsible distance in both of their interests.

It didn’t need words.

So just how busy, at least Twitter-wise, have the current - and currently inactive universally, in a playing sense - Bok stars been in raising awareness among the local public?

Well, some more than others, based on my impromptu survey.

The vast majority of the frontline Bok influencers in the stirring success in Japan do have Twitter handles, and I spotted some coronavirus-linked activity from, for instance, Jesse Kriel (based with Canon Eagles, Japan), Cheslin Kolbe (Toulouse) and Cobus Reinach (Northampton Saints, England).

While linked to a Nike-backed campaign, the trio tweeted videos of themselves doing lone, indoor exercise regimes, and backing the principle of “play inside” and “play for the world”.

Others like Willie le Roux and Handre Pollard have publicly joined that drive through the medium of Instagram.

Meanwhile recently-retired Bok legend Tendai Mtawarira, a few days ago, tweeted “challenge accepted” in joining a World Health Organisation “Safe Hands” (handwashing) challenge.

While I was penning this on Monday morning, another Bok in the form of Lions skipper Elton Jantjies was responsible for a video message on the Lions Twitter handle, broadly urging South Africans to “follow the rules” over coronavirus-countering measures, to stay indoors, sanitise properly and keep themselves and their children safe.

For those RWC 2019 Bok icons already active with message-spreading, keep up the good fight ... and let’s get cracking, some others?

You’d stay well worth your weight in gold.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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