The sin of Schadenfreude

MARK KEOHANE, in Business Day Newspaper, writes South African rugby should be about hope and not hatred.

In Canberra a South African rugby celebration continues to grow in excess. In Port Elizabeth this Saturday a celebration unrivalled in the unified history of South African rugby should also be about excess.

But individual and team triumph will be torture to a resentful audience. The freedom fighters are apparently the terrorists and Schadenfreude will be the champagne of choice when the Southern Kings play the Western Force in their Super Rugby debut.

The majority of South African rugby supporters have expressed their hatred for the Kings. Hate is the word that has constantly been emphasized, with bloggers delighting in supporting anyone who will be playing against the Kings. There is so much hatred, in especially the perceived failure of Luke Watson, who will captain the Kings this season.

It is a hatred so many white South Africans in the rugby community felt – and feel – towards former SA under 21 captain Clyde Rathbone when he moved to Australia and played for the Wallabies.

This hatred was extended to 2007 World Cup-winning coach Jake White when he left South Africa last year to coach the Brumbies.

Watson’s crime was to criticize Afrikaners in 2007 and to say they controlled South African rugby. The blasphemy was to say he never grew up in a household that celebrated the Springbok jersey, and it was seen as a symbol of oppression. He told a group in informal discussion he loved the idea of playing for his country, but the Springbok jersey, in its traditional guise, was something he could vomit on given the historical association it held from his up bringing.

He was subsequently trialed, condemned, convicted and sentenced within sectors of South African media and society, as the sinner without a soul.

These same individuals also prayed to God for their own redemption for being vulnerable to daily mistakes in life choices. These same people are oblivious to the contradiction and hypocrisy.

Watson has publicly apologized to Afrikaners for his words. He has said he would have articulated his thoughts differently had he been more mature. He has said he wants to be a part of all that is good about rugby and South Africa. He said he was used as a political pawn and his move to England, where he captained Bath for two seasons, made him realize just how much he was used by politicians and how he allowed himself to be used.

He has said that in hindsight he would have done so many things differently. He has said sorry.

Watson has spoken of the privilege and responsibility to live in South Africa and to be leading the pioneers of Kings rugby.

The young Watson, schooled to oppose the Springbok jersey, is very different to the Watson of today who makes his own choices and wants to make a contribution to the life South African rugby and South African society as it is, and not to helping end what once was.

Apparently youngsters can’t make mistakes, can’t admit to them and can’t expect any forgiveness if they happen to be Luke Watson. They can only expect continued hatred from those whose joy is defined by another’s perceived failure.

In a unified South African rugby community, the division has never been stronger. How sad for those unwilling to forgive and incapable of celebrating change, be it in a view or in an action.

How sad for our rugby that so many have voiced their pleasure at the prospect of foreign team stuffing up the Kings. What betrayal to a young group of South African rugby players.

Port Elizabeth, this weekend is the greatest story in South African rugby’s youthful unity, but when the parents (SARU) can’t celebrate the first steps of the child they bought into this world, it can’t be expected of the haters not to indulge in Schadenfreude.

Clyde Rathbone’s comeback from injury, depression and a dark place in his life is a celebration, as is White’s wonderful influence as coach of the Brumbies.

They are South Africans, as is Watson and the Kings, but those unaffected by their respective choices, triumphs and mistakes, detest them for these choices, triumphs and mistakes.

Euphoria for so many within South African rugby is proportionate to the relative failure of others.

It is as if they can only be successful if another fails.

Resentment ravages redemption and Schadenfreude is the stimulant when it is the sin in our rugby – and society.