Wednesday, November 19, 2008
South Africa's national rugby team has been known as the Springboks since 1906 (with the Springbok as its emblem), long before 1948 when South Africa's National Party came up with the despised Apartheid system.
There were no political connotations to that name. On a tour to the UK, the national rugby team captain at that time, Paul Roos, simply chose it as the name to use before the British press came up with their own nickname. Since that time, the name Springbok came to represent excellence and pride.
Yes, there was a period during its history where the SA government applied the Apartheid system to rugby by excluding non-white players from the national rugby team. As unfortunate as that was, it was about politics sticking its nose into sports and not about the Springbok.
Newspapers are quick to report that Dr. Danie Craven, long-time chairman of the SA Rugby Board, once said that a black person will never wear a Springbok jersey. That is true. What the same newspapers usually fail to say is that he changed his mind soon afterwards, and that it was in fact Danie Craven who met with the then-banned ANC in Zimbabwe to discuss a single rugby association for all racial groups, much to then-SA president PW Botha's dismay.
After South Africa's first multi-racial elections in 1994 when Nelson Mandela came to power, the Springboks won the Rugby World Cup twice, and the reputation of the "mighty Springbok" was enhanced even more. After each of these events, the Springbok was embraced by many South Africans from all racial groups!
For the guys who make it onto the team today (except Luke Watson), the Springbok still represents excellence and pride. These are rugby people who know how much work it takes to make the team!
Unfortunately, politics is still dragging South African rugby down, more specifically, the Springbok. People within the current ANC government, who probably don't even know what a rugby ball looks like, and certainly cares more about their own political ambitions than they care about rugby, have been trying to get rid of the Springbok emblem for several years, with the onslaught intensifying a lot recently.
"It symbolizes Apartheid", they say. "Bullsh*t!", I say. It happened to be the name of the team during Apartheid, but it was around since long before Apartheid. If you want to do away with the Springbok because it supposedly symbolizes Apartheid, then you may as well ban rugby too. Wasn't rugby "the sport of the [hated] Afrikaner?"
The problem is, the political meddling won't stop. People in power who, unlike Nelson Mandela, go around with scores to settle at any cost, will continue to attack anything that was also a national symbol during Apartheid.
So I say, drop the Springbok entirely from the national rugby team. Don't let it become a marginalized, commercial symbol that represents political fighting, sitting on the right-hand side of SA national rugby players' chests, subservient to the Protea. Let it ride off into the sunset as a symbol of excellence and pride, and let people remember it that way.
The politicians can then create whatever symbol they want. At least the mighty Springbok will live on intact in people's memories!