Like most South Africans, I was pretty miserable on Sunday morning because of the Springbok loss. But my misery was for very different reasons to those who are massive rugby fans. Don’t get me wrong, I’m hugely patriotic when it comes to our national teams and if South Africa wins an international hotdog-eating contest, I’m the first to brag about it to my foreign mates.
So then, if not because of the Boks’ loss, then why was I so angry? The loss should have, in fact, made me smile considering that most of my mates, and a whole bunch of South African rugby twitter followers, took a massive dig at me when Bafana Bafana lost to Mauritania recently, which for them was the height of embarrassment. The argument was that no South African team should lose to such a lowly ranked country as Mauritania and that it is was a huge disgrace to South African sports. So here was the perfect opportunity for me to hit right back at them and rub some salt into the massive samurai sword-inflicted wound delivered on Saturday to the Springboks. But I don’t delight in the Springboks losing. Despite the challenges that rugby South Africa has in making the sporting code truly representative, I still take pride in the fact that we have a team that genuinely can take their place among the top three in the world.
What disturbed me, and what made me very envious of the Springboks on Sunday morning in the aftermath of their soul-destroying defeat, was the complete shock of the entire world at the loss. Unsurprisingly our local media was in a frenzy and the Sunday papers were drenched in green despair, but you could turn to any news channel in the world – radio or TV – and in their sports coverage the Springbok’s loss was the lead story. It has gone down as one of the major upsets in sporting history the world over! In America, Europe and Asia, a Springbok loss to a so-called smaller opponent is massive news. And the reason it was such massive news is because of the historical excellence of the Springboks and therefore the global respect that the green and gold jersey has on the world stage.
Now, compare that to how much the world cares when Bafana loses. We’re not even a blip on the international radar, no matter how embarrassing a beating we get in the international arena. Nobody cares because we’re just not relevant. We’re not even relevant on the African continent in our most loved sport, other than for being able to host major tournaments. We fail to qualify for a World Cup, the world doesn’t care. We fail to qualify for an AFCON, Africa doesn’t care. Even our own media is starting to realise there is no real news in reporting Bafana losses any more. It’s almost become a case of ‘no news here’. The bigger story is when we win a game, and even drawing is starting to be considered big news these days.
So it is for this reason that I cannot wait for the day that a Bafana loss to a so-called smaller country has the jaw of the sporting world gaping in shock and disbelief. I’ll even just take that reaction from our own continent, but the truth is nobody really fears us. Nobody really believes we’re any good. And even if we are, even if the reality is that we are close to being great, the perception out there is one that says we are minnows. Our history says we’re awful and to turn this around even in our lifetime will be impossible.
What also irked me was that the media storm created by our rugby team’s loss clouded the incredible victory achieved by Ajax Cape Town on the weekend. That Ajax Cape Town had slain South African Cup Kings Kaizer Chiefs in the MTN8 final should have been a huge celebration and deserving of accolades, but it was lost in the maelstrom of a rugby defeat. Here is a Cape Town football club who are doing everything by the book. A club besotted with development and a fierce advocate for creating a culture of football excellence. A team who put out one of the youngest squads to take the field against the Mighty Amakhosi in a major final, and win! And all Cape Town and the rest of the country could talk about was the rugby.
I hope SAFA are watching closely and notice how much people care about a winning national team and the power it can hold over a nation, in loss and in defeat. I hope they have a plan to make Bafana as relevant to our nation. My dream is for our country to react to a loss by Bafana in a World Cup with complete disbelief and disgust, rather than with tolerance and understanding. And I know I’m not alone…