Lay off the boo-boys

South African rugby fans have every right to boo Luke Watson.

Watson, some people seem to forget, has put himself in the firing line. At UCT late last year, the outspoken player allegedly said that he’s sick of “Dutchmen” running South African rugby (this part was not tape recorded) and that he wanted to puke on his Springbok jersey when he was playing for the national team last year (this part was).

Imagine if a white Bafana Bafana player had bemoaned the fact that South African soccer is being run by “the blacks” and wanted to puke on the team’s Protea emblem, and was then booed by a mostly black crowd the next time he played in the PSL. Would politicians have criticised the crowd’s behaviour, as Western Cape MEC Cameron Dugmore did after watching the Stormers game at Newlands?

The fact remains that fans who have paid money to watch a sporting event have the right to cheer or boo whenever they see fit. No doubt many of those who booed Watson on Saturday are Afrikaans-speaking and were deeply offended by his alleged “Dutchmen” comment. Others are probably just Springbok supporters who are upset that he wanted to bring up his lunch on an emblem they care deeply about. Either way, these supporters chose to voice their displeasure – in a non violent way – whenever Watson touched the ball against Saracens. What’s the big deal?

It’s worth remembering that when then-president Thabo Mbeki was booed by Jacob Zuma supporters at the ANC’s Polokwane conference last year, the Zuma camp – who are now running the country – said nothing and rightly so. While it was clearly not a nice episode, those who booed Mbeki were simply exercising their right to freedom of speech as the Constitution allows.

There’s no doubt that Watson will be booed again this season, perhaps not at Boland this weekend but almost certainly when the Sharks play at Newlands on 14 February (Sharks fans have never liked Luke much). When it does happen, I hope administrators and politicians realise that no crime has been committed by those fans and resist the urge to publically rebuke them. Because while it may not be right to boo a sportsman, as far as the spirit of the game is concerned, fans have the right to do it.

By Simon Borchardt