The Sumo
The Sumo

Rugby fans ARE more racist than football fans

This argument is based on race, it cannot be escaped.

I refer you to the feast of international sporting content involving SA this past month — it has been awesome! As long as I have had a rich supply of the golden nectar of the gods, slivers of dried and salted animal carcass and toilet paper in the house — I’ve had no reason to leave my place at all. Apart from the excitement this festival of sport has provided, it has also demanded that I interrogate the differences in how we as South Africans support our (unified) national teams.

I’ve been pleased to see the make-up of the football-attending crowds for the Confederations Cup. It has been an awesome mix of all manner of our fellow countrymen, all ages and all of them 100% behind their country. This is new, in the past I’ve observed that when it came to international football competitions, all South Africans attended these matches, yes, but they did not necessarily go there to support Bafana Bafana. Granted, it was hard to support them for a while because of poor performance, but the black guys seemed to always be behind them and in greater numbers, the rest would support the international teams. It always perplexed me.

Who you choose to support is your right, of course, no one can dictate that to you, but supporting anyone other than your country always seemed petty to me, but I did not judge, I observed.

This ConCup was different. Every South African I saw was in our colours, flag and all, paint on pale faces and more flags waving proud and high above all their heads, even with vuvuzelas blasting — it was moving to see — it really looked like we forgot about our pitiful past and were united for those 90 minutes, all forgotten, all forgiven and most importantly — all of us having a bunch of fun.

Why is rugby then such a contentious issue? Why does the white rugby-supporting public feel so threatened by opening up the game to all South Africans? I used to give them the benefit of the doubt because I played competitive rugby and never felt unfairly treated. I would get the odd K-word shouted at me from the opposing crowd as I bulldozed half a dozen young men and scored a winning try. I never took that to heart. I always felt that these were isolated incidents — bad apples — I now have to wonder thanks to my new perspective gained from being an observer in the stands.

White people do not want black people administering, playing or coaching rugby. They do not want any black person participating in any way in their sacred game of rugby.

Here’s the difference: the Bafana team that started most of the games over the past few weeks consisted of ten blacks, one coloured and one white — Matthew Booth. There are no quotas in football because it is open to everyone. The best players play at all levels and are not shot down because of race. There has been a long history of open participation in football — our majority black-supported national sport.

Traditionally a player that is well loved by a team’s supporters gets a nickname. And when that player gets picked for the national team the name is carried over, chorused every time the player comes into contact with the ball or executes an excellent move. This is very prestigious for a player. To be named and sung about is the pinnacle of adoration. To have this honour bestowed upon one means you join the league of greats like Ace, Scara, Shakes and Mntungwa Mbokase — legends of the game.

There are many footballers who are loved and revered by supporters currently but only one is loved so much that his name is chorused every time he makes a tackle or clears a ball. Significantly it is not a show-pony midfielder this time or a prolific striker (we have none of these) it is a defender. And even more significantly, he is white, an unorthodox lanky white, the only white player in the team, may I reiterate.

When Booth touches the ball the whole stadium reverberates with his name, “Booooth!” his adoring fans shout. It’s a throaty roar that echoes through the foundations of the facility. The people love him for the fact that he has been serving his country of late and doing the business required of him. How well he has done seems to be a non-issue. He is there, sweating, giving his 100% for the national team. He never looks like he is anything other than fully committed to the cause of the team. This is what the fans appreciate, how he executes his task is not the reason they adore him.

Personally, if I were Santana, I wouldn’t have picked him to start the matches. He may have been in my squad, but I doubt I would’ve made him a starter. But he has proven me wrong and won me over to his side, he is committed, and that is never in doubt and always appreciated.

Now cast your eye to our second biggest sporting code — rugby. Transformation of that game is being actively retarded by, I believe, not only administrators in provincial teams and development structures, but mostly the fanatics of this sport. I am a rugby supporter, a proud Shark and Bokke supporter and this is how I gain insight into the psyche of the rugby fan. I go to games, visit rugby websites, buy the kits and stay at home to watch my favourite teams play. I never miss a game.

What I have seen of rugby supporters is rather scary. A friend of mine, the verbose beer fiend known as Siyabonga Ntshingila, drew my attention to a debate — or rather an attack — on the team that was picked to play the Lions. The rugby supporting masses were not at all pleased, you see, not only is the coach of “their” beloved national team “a stupid black” but now he has done the unthinkable and included yet another “f*&^%n black” to the list of players on the squad. A move they felt was utterly unnecessary seeing that the Habanas of this country had been assimilated and accepted and “another useless black” was just asking too much.

Yes, it is the matter of one unfortunate Earl Rose, a bencher at the Lions this past season. Snor’s explanation that this player was being groomed for the future was never even considered and the racial slur floodgates were let fly and the flood was directed at both the player and the coach that picked him.

It is shocking to see that we still have such simple-minded people. If a player is crap, I will be the first to share such a view if I hold it, but why does the player have to be crap and added to that “a useless coloured quota player” as well. When Frans Steyn has a shocker, it’s always about Steyn, no-one attributes it to him being an Afrikaner. Grey Bloem favouritism helping his career, we simply accept he is a prodigy who needs to iron out wrinkles in his play. But let it be a black player who makes the same mistake and you could swear he defiled the statue of the Virgin Mary at the NG Kerk.

I would guess that more racial mud-slinging occurred after the Emerging Boks international against the British Lions. Rose probably needs a security convoy when he leaves his house with the amount of hate mail he receives. I feel sorry for him, he is taking all this abuse for wanting to play the sport of his choice. A sport that some fanatics probably wish was left alone, to them. Perhaps they also wish they were given a piece of land near Orania to set up their state and Saru headquarters there in a green building, with the old SA flag waving proudly overhead and a herd of springboks gracefully grazing the well-manicured fields and no doubt have a few “boys” to maintain such serene beauty.

The evidence is there: football fans love Booth and don’t see him as any different to all the other ten players in the squad. Rugby fans hated Rose before he even had one up-and-under charged down. Sad, that is the difference between football and rugby supporters, the racial split in support being what it is: white people ARE more racist than black people.

Yeah, I said it.

I rest.

The Sumo.