We say it so often, and yet we continue to ignore one of the truisms of South African society….
‘No normal sport in an abnormal society.’
We continue to be as abnormal today as we have always been, and this is why South Africans go through regular periods of soul-searching in sport – as black and white wrestle over issues of race that remain unresolved over hundreds of years.
Did apartheid really collapse? I do not think so.
What we have become experts at is sweeping social issues under the carpet. What we have done is allowing those who took everything during apartheid, to continue keeping everything in the era of democracy.
By contrast, those who had nothing were told: ‘Guess what? You are going to have to wait a little longer.’
‘How much longer? And what are we going to get?’
‘Who knows? Maybe nothing,’ was the reply.
About a year ago, a former ‘Springbok’ manager, Arthrob Petersen called me to ask: ‘Won’t you help me write a book.’
His idea was full of intriguing possibilities, and it did not take me long to agree….
Unfortunately, he died shortly afterwards.
But what this man, who was ‘in the belly of the beast’, so to speak, had in mind was fascinating proof of the impossibility of trying to play normal sport in an abnormal society.
Here are examples of the inequality in South African society – even at post- ‘Springbok’ rugby level – that he mentioned (and I won’t mention names right now): for instance, he spoke about a ‘coloured’ ‘Springbok’ who, at the end of his playing days, was forced to live in a Wendy house, and drive a minibus taxi to make a living.
He mentioned another former Springbok, now jobless, coaching township youngsters on open fields for a pittance that he (Petersen) had managed to raise for him from sympathetic businesses.
He spoke about a franchise player who had returned to working in the same factory he had started his post-school life, before moving on to play high-level rugby.
He told me about how black and coloured players, on tour with the Springboks, were ignored by their white teammates, and how these black players had behaved like deer blinded by the lights of oncoming cars at team functions. ‘I had to take them under my wing,’ he told me.
Have white players ever had problems like this at the end of their playing careers – no matter how well Rassie Erasmus manages them these days?
Which brings me back to ‘no normal sport in an abnormal society’.