Defend Truth


Bah humbug to the Rugby World Cup, but the green and gold is goddamnawful

Jill of all trades but really, mistress of none, Carien has of late been a political tourist chasing elections and summits in various parts of the world, especially in Africa. After spending her student days at political rallies in South Africa right through the country's first democratic elections in 1994, and after an extended working holiday in London, Carien started working for newspapers full-time in 2003. She's pretty much had her share of reporting on South African politics, attending gatherings and attracting trolls, but still finds herself attracted to it like a moth to a veld fire. Her ultimate ambition in life is to become a travelling chocolate writer of international fame.

Right, go ahead, stone me with biltong and naartjie peels (no lager bottles, please) for saying this, but the green and gold jersey is thugly. Thoroughly ghastly. Gross as gross can be.

Try as I might, I can’t get over it. The mismatch of old-fashioned colours offends the crap out of the tiny bit of fashion sensibility I happen to have, in roughly the same measure as the shrill of coach Peter Div’s voice insults the ears.

Actually the jersey offends me in more than just looks. It reminds me of the bad old days, and, more recently, of self-important boorish South Africans ridiculously herded in out-of-place Springbok bars in London where many whine about the crime back home.

Yes, I know it’s been 17 years since the end of apartheid, and I know even Saint Mandela wore the stupid piece of rag back in 1995, but it’s still hideous.

It reminds me of the dumbest common denominators originating from places like Boksburg, Bloemfontein, Pretoria and Stellenbosch.

We live in a democracy now. I’m allowed not to like rugby jerseys. I may even despise the sport itself. Perhaps herein lies the rub.

See, it wasn’t always like this. Like any normal white Afrikaans kid undergoing a Christelik-Nasionale Onderwys (Christian National Education) in the 1980s, I listened to Leon Schuster singing about rugby and the army. I knew who Naas Botha was. I checked out middle-page Huisgenoot posters of Bok heroes and tried to figure out why they were regarded as handsome (we termed good lookers “smart”).

When my hormones became somewhat tjatjarag and I entered high school aged 12, I even endured a match or two when this guy I considered handsome was playing. Nevermind that the fancy was unrequited. At least he threw me some crumbs by acknowledging my existence, especially since I tactically befriended his sister. Fortunately she was a tomboy like me, so it wasn’t an entirely fruitless exercise.

(A few years later, I heard that he went on to play for the Boks, but by then I considered big brained men sexier than thick necked thugs.)

Soon after, I lost interest in the sport, and not because some of its players crushed my teenage ego. Rather, it had to do with the unfair status advantage it enjoyed by virtue of having been dominated by white men (in the mainstream, at least). Rugby hooligans with their cauliflower ears and over-inflated sense of self-importance were fussed over a whole lot more than, say, well-shaped, more civilised netball stars – no matter how high we could jump, how quick we could dodge, or how well we could shoot goals.

Hockey and soccer players were pretty much afforded the same mainstream neglect.

For a girl to be noticed in rugby, you needed to have tits, ass and pom-poms, and you had to know what to do with these – next to the field. Your sporty, competitive skills that far transcended those of the scrum-and-tackle brigade, didn’t have the same currency.

Lately I noticed an ad related to the Rugby World Cup (I find these difficult to watch, so I’m vague on the detail) with a camera angle that more or less goes up the thin, skimpily-clad ass of some blonde, who, in a madam-like manner, directs a row of rather ordinary-looking domestic worker-like black women, to cheer with pom-poms. Someone, please tell me it’s meant ironically. Ja?

And then there is this patronising skit about the Springbok jive. If meant non-ironically, it is presumably meant to tell black people that the sport is multi, even non-racial. Yes, I know rugby is big amongst black communities too, like in the Eastern Cape. Some of my best black friends still hang around rugby fields on Saturdays. But all of this isn’t reflected in the national discourse around the sport.

Even Sports Minister Fikile “Moer Hulle” Mbalula switches to Afrikaans when he goes about his rugby business, while the racial composition of our team in New Zealand still pretty much looks more like a DA fundraising dinner than, say, a Bafana Bafana selection.

In theory I like what rugby does, much as I liked what the Soccer World Cup did for us in 2010. It’s a tool of social cohesion, and I’m pretty much the patriot. I vote more regularly than I go to church and I generally stick to the current speed limit. I can even blow a vuvuzela so that it makes a proper sound.

Two or three years ago I gave rugby a try again. A friend invited me to his home to watch the Springboks play. Because he promised some vintage Kanonkop, good company and because he was ex-PAC (and black, of course), I thought it wouldn’t be that bad. This was a chance for some rugby redemption.

Just as well I took my knitting, because ten minutes into the game I was flinching. The meat machines were bleeding and shoving. Not pretty.

Eventually the kindly Meneer van Heerden spotted my disinterest from across the room, identified fully with it, and we spent the rest of the time nerdishly talking movies and books by the kitchen counter. I haven’t been invited back for a game since.

So please don’t expect me in the next month or so to look at you if you’re wearing the jersey. It’ll just hurt my eyes. These garments don’t seem to fit properly on the bodies of mere mortals anyway. They’re always too tight around the beer belly, or where there’s no beer belly, there’s too much jersey. Same applies to tits.

True, I very unpatriotically also didn’t purchase a canary yellow Bafana Bafana top last year (blond hair and yellow don’t match, but I’m pan-African and my complexion and Super Eagles green are a perfect fit), but at least I could face the wearers and I could watch the games. Sexism might be rife in soccer, but at least it lacks the self-entitlement and arrogance that rugby stinks of, and it’s also played by girls. Plus, soccer players actually have butts and legs that are like candy on the eye.

When it comes to nation-building, a Springbok jersey is to me what fidelity is to Steve Hofmeyer, or what Christmas is to Scrooge. Arrestably, impossibly repulsive, really. DM


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