Dylan Rogers
Dylan Rogers

Rugby administrators bungle again

As I sit, gazing out of my office window, through the pouring rain, at the 15th green at Johannesburg Country Club, I take small comfort in that my only consolation is that those well-heeled midweek golfers who taunt me on a daily basis will not be able to do so for the remainder of this working week.

But my thoughts are not consumed by wealthy old men and women, golf-day organisers, sportsmen, journalists and businessmen who conduct their business on the golf courses of Johannesburg, but instead, I’m thinking of the Springboks. Yes, the world’s currently top-ranked rugby team and holders of the William Webb Ellis trophy. For they are, as I sit here in the comfort of my warm office, currently “enjoying” an open-top bus trip from Pretoria to Johannesburg. Firstly, I’m thinking of them because right now I’d rather eat my own foot than take part in an open-top bus ride in the rain, notwithstanding the fact that an open-top bus ride in the rain usually morphs into a closed-top bus ride in the rain.

Now, the Boks may still be caught up in the euphoria of all the post-World Cup celebrations, but in reality, they are probably exhausted and hankering after a little “home time” with the family. That being said, they know their duty to the die-hard Springbok rugby fans who populate this country and have probably accepted that visiting Pretoria, Johannesburg, Bloemfontein, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town in the space of just four days is a reasonable request, considering the clambering that is going on in South Africa, as everyone seeks to get a slice of the action and a glimpse of their heroes.

But secondly, I’m thinking of them, because the people who employ them have once again gone and made a pig’s ear of something so simple and straightforward. Much more important than their exhaustion and desire to be with their families and considering the political implications and what it means for the game of rugby in South Africa, why, oh why, was a decision taken to strike Soweto from the list of areas to be visited on the open-top bus ride … rain or no rain ? As I write this, I’ve just heard that SA Rugby officials have changed the plans again and the Boks will now take in Soweto on their tour of the country.

Feel free to chip in roundabout now with references to horses, bolting and barn doors. It is too late. Yes, the Boks will now visit Soweto and do what they should have done in the first place and that is treat those loyal fans in the country’s biggest township, just as SA Rugby decreed they would do in the larger city centres. But the message is still clear: SA Rugby doesn’t feel that Soweto is as important as Pretoria, Johannesburg, Bloemfontein, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town when it comes to thanking loyal fans for their support and taking the game to the people. The argument was that logistically, something had to go from the original list of areas, as a result of time constraints. But why, then, was Soweto the first to go?

There is, of course, a broader issue here and that’s why I can’t believe that SA Rugby even contemplated excluding Soweto. In the past few weeks so much has been made of how fantastic the 1995 World Cup victory was for South Africa in terms of nation-building, but that SA Rugby failed to build on that and ride the wave of interest in the game in South Africa. It is still seen as largely a “white” game, but that will take time as development and transformation eventually gather momentum. (There is another issue here, in terms of how long these two are taking to gather momentum, but that’s for another time).

With all of that in mind, and with all the talk of learning our lessons of 1995, surely, I mean surely, taking the Springboks on a ticker-tape parade of Soweto would be a significant step in the right direction, in terms of taking rugby to the people and showing that it belongs to all the people of South Africa. The Soweto rugby fans were just as loyal and shouted just as loudly as anyone in those cities, so surely they too should be rewarded with a visit from their heroes. If that then leads to some youngster gazing up longingly at Bryan Habana waving at him from an open-top (or closed-top, weather permitting) bus and deciding then and there that rugby is his game, well then, job done, in terms of spreading the word of rugby.

It is also an issue of respect, and if this country is to move forward and continue to transform, then those who make important decisions, both inside and outside the sporting fraternity, need to take cognisance of that. SA Rugby has taken a lot of flak in the past with its poor handling of administrative issues, but this is up there with the worst of them. In a time when politicians and critics of the game in South Africa are just looking for an excuse to stick the boot in, this was a trick missed.