By Roxanne Rua
One of the most noticeable aspects of South African culture I encountered when arriving here from abroad was the passion that so many people have for sports. Be it soccer, rugby, cricket or any number of amateur athletic pursuits, South Africans are loyal supporters, talented participants and indeed good sportsmen and women. Incidents of sport-related violence are also lower than in many other places. A posting to South Africa is quite a treat for our diplomats, who are keen to support local teams and share in the South African love for sport. Indeed during the 2010 World Cup, France was lucky enough to be drawn in the same group as South Africa, or perhaps unlucky, if the result is anything to go by. Results aside, the tournament was a superb experience not only for our diplomats, but also for the visiting French supporters.
In South Africa, the power of sport to bring together communities from different backgrounds is evident. In 1995, winning the Rugby World Cup after emerging so recently from a divided past and seeing the country celebrating as one was a fantastic sight. It epitomised the post-apartheid image of South Africa. Indeed, photographs of former president Nelson Mandela handing over the World Cup trophy to the victorious Springboks was surely among the greatest in sporting history. Similarly, the 2010 Fifa World Cup is remembered as a period in which every South African was a Bafana fan. Football Fridays were a truly wonderful sight, even if the French shirts of our staff were drowned out by the sea of golden shirts on display in every public space.
There are many research initiatives from all over the world that indicate a strong correlation between community sporting initiatives and a wide range of benefits, from reduced crime and drug use through to better performance at school and even lower prevalence of depression. I therefore feel that a greater emphasis on sport should be an integral part of community development. In South Africa there is already a relatively high standard of sports infrastructure in place, and expansion into previously neglected areas is under way. I am sure that with the cooperation of initiatives from the private and NGO sectors, sport will continue to be a force for unity in South Africa.
This year the Rugby World Cup will again bring together French and South African sports fans; I hope this time the French team will have greater luck on the field. Of course, long before the tournament starts, the host of any such event is identified, usually by the vote of an organising committee. This year South Africa will host one such event. In July the 123rd session of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will convene in Durban and one of the items on the agenda is to select the host for the 2018 Winter Olympics. It just so happens that Annecy, a popular French tourist destination, is one of the candidate cities. I hope that in 2018 France will be able to welcome the world as South Africa did in 2010.
I am particularly fond of the winter Olympics as it brings together some fantastic sporting codes and sets them in picturesque winter scenes. In Annecy, the games would be surrounded by snow-capped mountains, and athletes and fans would be able to enjoy the city, with all it has to offer. I am also personally excited for the IOC session in Durban, a city I enjoy visiting but do not have enough chance to each year. I am certain that the session will be managed well and that South Africa’s preferred beach destination will prove a very pleasing atmosphere within which the Olympic Committee can make its important decision.
So, if Annecy is fortunate enough to be selected as the host for the 2018 Winter Olympics, I invite you to plan a winter break in France that year and to further solidify the sporting relations between our two countries.
Roxanne Rua is a political officer at the French Embassy to South Africa. For more information about the Annecy bid please contact Roxanne on [email protected].