Back Boks, but drop contrived patriotism

MARK KEOHANE, in his weekly Business Day column, says it’s time for Springbok supporters to grow up and stop being so blindly patriotic.

I only hope the Boks get a welcome back to SA that equals their send-off for the World Cup in New Zealand — regardless of whether they defend their trophy.

I know it won’t happen because the support offered to the Boks is conditional — as it was with Bafana Bafana at last year’s Soccer World Cup and the Proteas when it came to the Cricket World Cup.

It really is time the South African rugby supporter grew up, matured and enjoyed the pleasures of the game — win or lose. As one All Black told a Springbok: ‘The difference between us and you is that we are passionate; you guys are just plain angry.’

Too many South African supporters still define their manhood through the Boks’ success; equally their inadequacy as guilt-ridden South Africans who lived off the advantages of being white in apartheid SA .

We South Africans are a popular bunch these days. The Boks were loved in Paris in 2007. Their supporters were welcomed and Nelson Mandela’s long walk to freedom meant a very comfortable walk anywhere in the world for South Africans. But South Africans need to accept that they’re in vogue and part of their being fashionable is that youngsters now travel, aren’t forced into post-matric conscription service and are encouraged to think for themselves.

They are taught that it is cooler and more rewarding to live for a cause than to die for one. South Africans are part of the global village and no longer looking in from a distance.

We are in a new age and should be capable of making our own decisions, of engaging in debate and dealing with what is an illusion and what is real.

It is the contrived patriotism in 2011 that irks me most when it comes to our national sporting teams. The reminder that at the moment every Friday is Bok Friday, just as we did with the cricketers at the World Cup and Bafana Bafana in last year’s Soccer World Cup.

Supporters of SA’s national teams should wear their teams’ respective colours because it is the obvious and natural thing to do. It shouldn’t need a reminder. It shouldn’t need drummed-up public relations and media hysteria to convince South African supporters that the only way to offer support is through blind optimism and wearing a Bok jersey on Friday.

It certainly doesn’t help that, given SA ’s militant and troubled past, the analogy of war is always the first association to any of our sporting teams’ campaigns. Or violence.

The sports minister’s send-off to the Boks, urging them to ‘moer hulle’, was as embarrassing as it was disgusting. It played to an audience we associate with a shamed past; not with an invigorating future.

He didn’t say outsmart them and dazzle them with your skill and your innovation. Some would say he couldn’t because that would be lying.

This ‘moer hulle’ apparently makes the minister a supporter of the Boks, just like wearing green and screaming ‘go green’ makes one a supporter.

Nonsense. The supporter is the one who is going to be at the arrivals hall whether or not the Boks come back with that yellow cup the Aussies famously dubbed Bill.

The true supporter will also ask questions, have doubts and have a belief based on information. The blind patriotism I so detest also comes with the ignorance of everyone believing that the Boks will win the competition because they are the Boks.

I don’t believe SA will win the competition. This is not to say they can’t win it. But New Zealand and Australia are better teams, whose players are more skilled and innovative.

No northern hemisphere team will win the trophy because neither France nor England currently have the players that make up a champion team. The victors will come from one of the southern hemisphere big three, and the favourites have to be hosts New Zealand, who are seeded to meet defending champions SA in the semi-final.

This will be SA’s most demanding World Cup and the greatest rugby challenge for those players who will defend the tag of champions. It is one thing to claim the crown; quite another to wear it.

Winning the World Cup in New Zealand will rank as the greatest achievement in Springbok history. That is how huge the task is. Support them, bleed green and scream green.

But do it with the knowledge that not only would a Bok victory be monumental, it would also defy history. No team have defended the World Cup and no Bok team have won against New Zealand in Auckland since 1937.

Embrace the romance of these Boks being history makers. But don’t take it personally or be shocked if your heart gets broken before 23 October.