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HUE AND CRY OP-ED

On rugby and colour blindness – whether political or not – and all the moaners seeing red

On rugby and colour blindness – whether political or not – and all the moaners seeing red
Steven Kitshoff in action during the Springboks' Rugby World Cup match against Scotland at Orange Velodrome in Marseille on 10 September 2023. (Photo: Steve Haag / Gallo Images)

Those fans who object to the rugby kit redesigns need to get over themselves and remember that without even realising it, they have benefits over so many others.

Way back in the Eighties, colour blindness was not a political term, just another thing to make one the laughing stock of the jocks.

It sadly did not get me out of national service (remember that?) and was not seen as a disability. Just like mental health and suicidal thoughts were a so-called female problem treated by psychologists that dutiful husbands silently paid for but refused to attend. 

Post-traumatic stress disorder did not exist and, well, to be diagnosed with a disability one just about had to lose at least two limbs, cut one’s wrists (and be sent to a mental institution commonly called Groendakkies in Pretoria) or go the “malhuis” – the permanent treatment centre for anything from depression to Down syndrome.

It was with a good measure of surprise when I realised a few years ago that I have a disability. Nothing to write home about because nobody notices it, and I function normally. But I would love to paint (canvases not walls), to be creative and design. 

Until I tweaked a photograph on Photoshop and my wife dutifully pointed out that I made the white faces as green as could be. Then the penny dropped. 

I don’t make a fuss about it. But for me colour blindness is a metaphor for all those very real conditions ordinary people suffer from because nobody ever told them that the world could be different. Like a friend who, at age 30, got her first set of glasses and went through weeks of trauma. For 30 years she thought everybody saw the world through blurred filters. She felt cheated.

The whirls of colour turned out to be individual flowers. 

The horizon was not a swathe of blurry blue, it was range upon range of different hues of coloured mountains disappearing in the distance.

What do I do when the teller tells me to press the green button; when the electrician giving me advice on connecting a device tells me the brown wire goes left?

My condition is called red-green colour blindness, or red-green colour deficiency (CVD).

Turns out that colour blindness is political after all. It affects about 8% of males of Euro descent (compared with 0.5% of women). So, colour blindness is a white male problem, in this case. What can I say…

It is caused by a problem in the functionality of some of the cells in my retina, which mediate colour vision. If the cones lack some of the wavelength-sensitive chemicals, they are unable to distinguish the colours red, green or blue.

Sidelined by default

My three brothers have the same problem to some degree – except that they do not work in creative industries where colour is sort of one of three main ingredients, besides texture and form. 

In our family, when it surfaces, it makes for good jostling and jokes. However, since my awakening that what I see is not what I get, I have started to notice the small ways that I am sidelined by default. 

Colour blindness means I identify colours by what I have been taught they should be – grass is green, the sky is blue – rather than what they really are. I can appreciate a beautiful sunset, for example, without being able to identify the colours, shades of colours or undertones. (Photo: iStock)

What do I do when the teller tells me to press the green button; when the electrician giving me advice on connecting a device tells me the brown wire goes left? I caused my father endless frustration because the earth wire in a normal plug (back then) could be brown, brown/green or black. And the live wire is red. I mean really? It was a colour nightmare. 

Traffic lights are easy, at least, because the green is so bright. When it comes to amber and red, I read the light by where it is on the pole, not by the colour. 

My wife, gracious angel that she is, has learnt to say “yes dear, it is lovely” with no hint of sarcasm whatsoever when we drive through the Western Cape’s valleys and I comment on how peacefully green the restios and grasses are. She has long since stopped telling me that we are in the middle of summer and they are as brown as can be.

Same goes for the lovely blue (pink) flowers or the purple (blue) paint on the houses. 

I am 51. I have multifocal glasses. 

Even at school matches I first have to find the right place to look through the glasses to focus. Then I try to make out which team is which. (Tygerberg, green and white stripes; other school, white and other-shade green/purple/brown).

At heart the issue is whether rugby supporters love their game enough to share it with others.

I keep my eyes squinting in the right direction because I don’t want my son to look around and see me looking somewhere else. But until the ref blows the whistle and I can ask someone next to me what happened, I am snookered.

So, what does all this have to do with rugby? you may ask. Frighteningly few comments on social media are sympathetic with the decision by World Rugby to get teams at the Rugby World Cup to wear kits that are more contrasting in colour to help people like me. 

I assume these people love the Eighties and can’t wait to have their burnout being labelled “yuppie flu” – the rich man’s excuse not to work.

At heart the issue is whether rugby supporters love their game enough to share it with others. 

It took years for white South Africans to love it enough to accept transformation, after years of denial that there are probably more black rugby supporters in South Africa than whites. 

Boks and bonding

So, here I am with my disability that registers so ridiculously low in the bigger scheme of things when it comes to people with needs, special needs or social injustice. 

But I love rugby. I watch the Springboks’ and the Stormers’ games casually to stay more or less in touch. I am crazy about sevens, though. 

Covid ended my first son Edja’s aspirations to become a Springbok. He used to explain things to me when I could not figure it out. For now, my second son is my eyes and ears. 

He knows every World Cup team’s players by name and position; he knows the words to every national anthem and can tell you the game plan of every team. He aspires to be the first black World Cup referee (Go Siphs!). 

The point is, watching the Springboks play is how I bond with my family. I don’t know all the rules and my sons have to explain the (constantly evolving) rules. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Springboks’ and All Blacks’ new kit designs create a dazzling stir — just as intended

So, naysayers, do you want me to support your sport, or move on to another? Remove 8% of white male rugby supporters and see what the advertisers have to say… 

Sadly, when my sons are not with me, very few people have any consideration for this. When there is a ruck or a maul and my eyes jinx my colour recognition, I simply can’t follow the match. I have to stitch together the parts that I can follow and fill in the blanks. 

It forces me to be a half-hearted supporter, watching the score instead of the game. When I was a teenager, I remember wishing that they would indicate the direction each team is playing by switching the little window indicating the score – so if the score is on the right, I would know that team played right to left. 

Alas, World Rugby did not read my thoughts.

So, Springbok management, I salute you for going all the way in your creative redesign of the jersey – even if the colour looks a bit too much like our beloved supermarket chain. Thank you for including me. 

Besides loving the Ndebele-inspired geometric patterns, I could totally enjoy the game. 

In our first World Cup match, it was so much easier to follow. When Steven Kitshoff, loosehead prop, was offside during a ruck and received a penalty against him, even I could identify him and his error. Before, I would have to ask somebody why the penalty was awarded, and against whom. When the ball was held up and a try was not awarded to South Africa, I could clearly see the action because I could identify the arms by the colours they were clothed in. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Springboks and All Blacks can never meet again in their primary kit – new World Rugby regulations

When lineouts turned into mauls, it was so simple to identify team players as the maul spiralled forward.

So, for the moaners and groaners, get over yourself and remember that without even realising it, you have benefits over so many others. Don’t opinionate about my experience of the game, without walking in my shoes. I recall the Springboks playing in white before and there was no outcry.

If colour blindness is such an issue to you, I wonder how you respond to income inequality, poverty and some of the other serious issues in our nation that do not affect you directly. 

Perhaps you suffer from colour blindness after all – the social and political kind. DM

Johan de Meyer is a freelance writer.

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Christo Potgieter says:

    I’m going to write an op-ed on how difficult it is being left handed in a right hand dominant world…

    Colour blindness affects the lives of aspiring pilots, not scrapbook enthusiasts.

    • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

      😄 I’m colour blind AND sinistre. Ie. that poor guy trying to find the green wire to defuse the bomb with a pair of right handed scissors. I’m doomed! 😄

  • Please do not follow the instruction of your electrician, you’ll shock yourself. The brown / red wire goes to the right and not the left.

    • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

      😀 not on the “new” SANS164-2 plug …the colours are reversed. (DUUUUUUUH ZA electrical board – but that’s another story)

      So colour blind people may just get lucky. Watch yourselves, it’s a turkey shoot out there people 😄

    • Ian.clyde.walker says:

      Why not do what they do for ice hockey – each team has a dark and a white (light) jersey? Opponents wear one or the other. That way, the Springboks, Wales and Ireland can keep their traditional jerseys for some games. And the teams should be happy – fans will buy more merchandise, as some will want one of each jersey. Even if the All Blacks have to wear white sometimes!

  • Brett Redelinghuys says:

    We hear your views and we all emphatic to the plight of colour blind people. But as your stats show this is for LESS THAN 1% if the “white” population (to coin a colonialist/ racist term, still used to keep parts of the population seperated…)
    However, with respect, this was nothing to do with colour blindness, although it was sold to us as such. They could have worn their other white kit. This was a chance for SAR to make money by using Checkers colours. And as a sportsman I fully understand the need to pay our bills. So let’s be honest and stop talking junk by insulting the supporters intelligence.
    By doing what was done we devalue the brand. Simple

    • Andrew Mortimer says:

      Brett yes and no. The regulation the World Rugby introduced was voted against by SA rugby. The “Hyper Jade” design came from Nike. Checkers have jumped on it. The faux outrage has been insane. Alternate kits are nothing new and are definitly part of the marketing plan for professional sports teams. You either like or dislike an alternate kit. Some of the other white bok kits in the past have been very average. Same with other countries. The current black and yellow Welsh kit is horrible but it serves its purpose. The English navy blue with maroon socks is a work of art (they usualy have terrible kits).
      Football introduced alternate kits inthe 1950’s so that teams were easier to identify on Black and White TV. They continue with the rule that kits need to clash. Its accepted that the alternate kit allows the kit designer to experiment a bit.

      I say again the faux outrage has been insane rugby is a professional sport. The rule that kits must clash makes sence and provides an extra marketing opportunity. If you dont like it dont spend money on the alternate kit. Simple As…

      • JanLouis du Toit says:

        Louder for the people in the back!

      • Senzo MK says:

        “The faux outrage has been insane. Alternate kits are nothing new and are definitly part of the marketing plan for professional sports teams. You either like or dislike an alternate kit”

        Exactly. There are always people who complain about everything. Their lives must be miserable. It’s just a jersey not the end of the world 😅

    • JanLouis du Toit says:

      Brett please can you share the source of your assertion that Checkers paid to have Boks play in hyper jade? I think DM would be keen to do a story in it, it ticks all the boxes that lead to clicks on websites – public interest, a national treasure, corporate overreach, pop culture… Please share the source!

    • Senzo MK says:

      “This was a chance for SAR to make money by using Checkers colours”

      That doesn’t make any sense. How could they make money by using checkers colors? 😅

  • Martin Neethling says:

    This article invokes a tiny bit of sympathy, but completely, totally and 100% misses the point. I’m not sure that our Johan here actually is the the ardent Springbok supporter he claims. The issue is not an objection to having an away strip. The Springboks have forever had white kit with a gold collar, to use when the away team has to shed its traditional colours. No one ever complained. The current ‘2nd’ away strip that this Nike kit offers is not that different, except for the colour of the shorts and trim. The objection is that the main away strip is wrong it every sense. It introduces a colour that had never been associated with the Boks, it introduces some very odd patterning, (Ndelebe, really?), and yes, it looks like a Checkers Sixty 60 driver. It has not a single redeeming feature. I didn’t know that this tiny percentage of the population in SA mattered this much – nice to be corrected – but colour blind people could have easily and uncontroversially been accommodated (and have been) within the Springbok’s existing strip playbook. This is a perfect case of trying to find a solve when the problem has already been addressed.

  • MK Osi says:

    I feel that rugby players should play in jerseys covered in braille, so that blind fans can also enjoy the game.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    Sorry but this is a great example of the pathetic Woke BS our world is drowning in.

    I have been diagnosed as colour blind and I don’t want this change. The single uniform is important for national sporting identity and I have never, in all my colour blind years of watching rugby, gone “which team is which? Oh, I’m so confused!” . (If you want to talk confusing, maybe take a look at the rules).

    I should also mention that being colour blind does not mean “no colour”, it means we have a different view of colour, and yes, while some colours do merge, there is no question that our body compensates to differentiate in other ways, such as tone, meaning that we usually still see difference. Oh ya, and there there are the players. Should we spray paint each a different colour so I don’t get confused by those that look alike when moving at speed?

    Stop trying to be everything to everybody. At a broader level this woke sideshow distracts us all from the real bad guys who laugh at this stuff while detroying everyone’s lives and our planet, like Putin and our useless government. It is literally like sticking one’s head in the sand to disguise the fact that one’s limbs are being chopped off.

    Shame.

  • Andrew Blaine says:

    If its the pattern you need then why the colour change? For those of us (92%) the pattern would be an improvement, but the loss if the green is a step too far!
    Maybe tradition has a place other than in our memories?

  • Steven D says:

    Johan, you know that colour-blindness-correcting glasses are now an option, yes? You already wear glasses so it should not be a chore for you to get your existing ones changed to include the correcting aids.

  • JanLouis du Toit says:

    I have to say I am shocked that people are so emotional about this. The colour of the jersey really does not matter at all, it should be a non-issue. The fact that more people are included at zero real cost is a win. GO BOKKE!

  • Hari Seldon says:

    Colour blind (red-green which is the dominant form) people have said to me they have no problem following the springboks / all blacks or most other teams as the shorts, socks, and patterns are usually so different. Instead of being so heavy handed, World Rugby could simply have done some research on the teams and reassigned sock and shorts colours instead of jerseys. Not allowing the Springboks to play the All Blacks in their traditional outfits is not evidence based. It was a rushed decision in some committee meeting. Maybe the Welsh vs Springbok game needs a reassignment of socks and shorts.

  • Confucious Says says:

    99.9999999% of the population facilitating 0.000001% of the population! We are Green and Gold, not Differing Shades of Turquoise and White with Bits of Green and Gold! It would be far easier for supporter to learn who plays in their team. The team can put a gigantic SA on their backs. The broadcaster could also put an arrow under the score with the abbreviated country names. To change our heritage is not on! Green and Gold!!!

  • Wayne Lazo says:

    I’m red green colour blind but have never had any problem identifying a Rugby team from their traditional home and away kit colours. Wales in black and yellow????? That having been said, I don’t care if the Bokke dress in drag as long as they win. 🙂

  • Lynn Wood says:

    Daily Maverick/Johan de Meyer
    Please clarify your article. The correct wiring colour for the Earth wire is Green/Yellow (or Green on older circuits).

  • Johan, you missed the point of the “outrage” so spectacularly, you may have to rethink the disability issue.

    No-one is complaining about the fact that we have an alternate strip, or about the pattern, or about the fact that WR is trying to accommodate the colour blind. People are upset about the “hyper jade” colour. That’s it. It’s so simple, yet you missed it entirely. You did not however, miss the chance to regale us with tales of faux-hardship.

    People are upset that a sponsor gets to dictate our colour strip; gets to dictate a part of our national sporting identity. Because some consultant decided turquoise would be better than green / gold / white. Because Nike wanted to make a splash. Because SARU doesn’t have a backbone.

  • John Smythe says:

    Oh, please! Get over yourself! I have an affliction you or many other wouldn’t want. And it prevents me from doing a lot of things I wish I could do. But I’ve accepted it and moved on. So, if you want to support another team that isn’t wearing a Checkers bag, then go for it. And I doubt the advertisers would have a problem with it. Your threats are just plain silly.
    The new rugby kit is supposedly an influence by Ndebele design traditions and its colour inspired by the colours of the flora and landscape of South Africa. Well, I’m still to find the area of South Africa that has a Checkers colour hue as its flora and landscape.
    It’s a dumb design with no real consideration for SA supporters. Viva GREEN AND GOLD!

    • Senzo MK says:

      It’s just a jersey. Not a big deal. Get over it

      • Martin Neethling says:

        I think you’ve repeated the same point 4 or 5 times. Repetition doesn’t really help the debate. ‘It’s just a jersey’ is obviously only a point that people not interested in the Springboks and/or rugby would say. It’s a bit like saying ‘it’s just a flag’, or ‘it’s just a song’, or ‘it’s just the haka’. For many many fans, it really does matter, even if not for you.

      • John Smythe says:

        Mmm… No. I won’t get over it.

      • Mike Monson says:

        It’s not just any jersey. It’s the jersey of our Springboks. While I understand that you probably don’t feel the connection and pride that the average SA rugby supporter feels for this team, it’s appearance does matter. The Springboks have been a part of our South African experience for well over a century. It has reflected the best and the worst of our country’s social and political times. It represented struggle and hope to Afrikaners under colonial domination, it focused the efforts in the honourable struggle against apartheid, it became the single beacon for hope in a new United South Africa under Mandela and now it’s a symbol of hope that we can still have the excellent and extraordinary in a country pulled to its knees by political incompetence and corruption under the ANC. That’s why it’s not just a jersey!

  • Steve Davidson says:

    I see the main proponent of the idea was Bill Beaumont the Chair’person’ of World Rugby who apparently is colour blind. He is also freaking stupid. I’m certainly not having a go at the author, although he is about the first colour blind person I’ve heard who was particularly worried about the shirts, but assuming it is a problem, frankly, World Rugby have made a huge – justified – mountain out of a molehill. They have handled it (and sorry to shout) INCREDIBLY BADLY. Probably being a pom, who wear all white (or dark blue) and are arrogant as ****, he doesn’t care about anyone else but himself. Why on earth wasn’t this decision referred a bit further? Why did Nike not think a bit more? Why couldn’t the obvious issue with the Bok shirt design be thought out a bit more? But then Beaumont obviously hates South Africa – as in ‘they stole the 2023 RWC from us and gave it to France’ – so are we surprised he’ll do anything to stuff us up. And now of course he’s put us against our colour blind countrymen for what? Being able to stick one on us because his 1980 Lions team got thrashed out here? (Mind you, one good thing is that’s when after 10 years after emigrating from pomland I finally became a Bok supporter so not all bad I suppose).

  • Shirley Gobey says:

    I agree with Ricky about this crazy woke world we live in. If the writer was such a Springbok fan, he wouldn’t need clothing to identify his team as he would know every one of the players and be able to recognize who is playing . This thing came about because the world Rugby head Bill Beaumont is colour blind himself.

    • bigbad jon says:

      Agree Shirley,
      also in agreement with most commentators her including
      Confucious Says, [email protected], Martin Neethling, Brett Redelinghuys, Ricky Rocker, Steve Davidson, Los Pollos Hermanos, Hari Seldon and Mike Monson.
      I’ve been barneying with a guy on twitter/X about this.
      This author IS obviously woke, was never interested in rugby until his kids rubbed it in his face, not to forget his virtue signalling.. As all the commenters who ARE colour-blind mentioned, if you know the game and the guys playing, the jersey colour is not important. As some have also mentioned, simply switching shorts to black or white would sort out the issue, even for this pampered minority.. So this was a personal (Beaumont) and commercial decision (Nike, Checkers) and should be stopped.

  • Quentin Campbell says:

    For those who thinks Checkers had an influence, see the funny advert Checkers made. Search YouTube for this: “Checkers Sixty60’s response to the Springboks’ kit”.
    Uploaded by Checkers.
    As for the rest: I am proud of the boys in their green and gold, but “Fine Feathers Do Not Make Fine Birds.”

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