Tony McKeever

Rugby in Orlando Soweto is what it’s about!

In the last two weeks all of South Africa bore witness to two remarkable rugby events — that far from being incidental, as a consequence of the Soccer World Cup change in venue requirements — had a Super 14 rugby semifinal and final being played at Orlando Stadium in Soweto.

These two events, each with 40 000 rugby ambassadors, mainly from Pretoria of course, resonated across and throughout South Africa in such a fashion it highlighted what it is to be a South African, with other South Africans celebrating our pure unbridled passion for our sport.

These two events overcame pre-conceived notions and wound up being a double national celebration of who we are and what we are capable of as a multicultural nation that is capable of a huge outpouring of emotion.

One resident of Soweto who attended the games said it best with his statement, that “the World Cup in South Africa is a celebration for the world, but the Super 14 semifinal and final was a celebration for South Africa”.

Even my Blue Bulls Fundamentalist father-in-law’s friends did it the right South African way, for a gang of five very senior 75+ year old rugby loving Blue Bulls supporters, by hiring a local minibus taxi in Pretoria, to take them to the game and visit three shebeens before the game and another three shebeens after the game. To me that is a remarkable revelation of how our game rugby turned into a celebration of a national rugby fellowship.

What makes this a remarkable celebration was that it was in the public eye and the focus of all these positive emotions were brought about by the absolutely phenomenal professional planning and camera work of SuperSport.

The CEO of SuperSport, Imtiaz Patel and his colleagues can take a bow for producing a spectacular visual odyssey of what our South African sporting and rugby life was like in Orlando Soweto over those two Saturdays.

What might have seemed like a pending clash of cultures of white and black people, turned out into the most wonderful melting pot of what drives us as a nation.

This visual presentation by SuperSport, captured the whole spectrum of emotion from the players on the field to the fan sitting high up in Orlando Stadium to the rest of us scattered around the country soaking up the game from the nearest DSTV decoder, in total wonderment how black and white get along in South African rugby, marvelling in the fact that the bulk of the Blue Bulls supporters are black and so on.

After all this public outpouring, of how great the game is and everyone congratulating themselves on how everyone got along with each other inside and outside the stadium, it got me to thinking about a great sadness of what has been lost to the country and to us as rugby loving supporters.

If the last two weekends demonstrated anything to us and the world, it is that Orlando Soweto embraced these two events as a sign of what we are and capable of together as people.

But this did not suddenly happen overnight and the Blue Bulls did not suddenly acquire a black supporter base, as this passion for the game of rugby, has been in existence for a hundred years and all of these noble attributes and qualities of what the game of rugby has done and still does do for South Africa was stifled, up until two weeks ago, when there was the dawning realisation we have these feelings and passions in common.

I have seen it over the last decade and these same emotions have existed with the equivalent intensity, maybe even more so, not just in Orlando Soweto, but throughout the Eastern Cape, from Motherwell to Mthata.

The sadness is that the Eastern Cape has been denied and excluded from Super rugby participation over the past 5 years, of over 60 games (13 each year) of Super rugby that would similarly have fuelled these same emotions.

A cure for the exclusion of the Eastern Cape from Super rugby, from society and from South African rugby, just has to be found and soon.

We cannot momentarily celebrate these past two weekends of great rugby in Soweto, without also feeling the loss experienced by our fellow rugby supporters and players in the Eastern Cape.

To SA Rugby carpe diem.