International Rugby, Opinions

Sport’s unifying role following the Christchurch massacre

Mark Keohane, writing for the Cape Times, speaks of the unifying role sport has to play following the tragedy of the mosque shooting in Christchurch.

When I read about the Christchurch mosque attack, I felt a combination of nausea, sadness, anger and disgust.

Such hatred in such a callous act of cowardice.

The unanimous response in New Zealand echoed my feelings. The sporting world of New Zealand effectively came to a standstill. The Chiefs’ home Super Rugby match against the Hurricanes, played just a few hours after the attack, was subdued.

Several players were quoted afterwards as saying that there were so many bigger things on their mind that night than a game of rugby. Whoever won was irrelevant on a day when everyone in New Zealand felt loss. Fittingly, the match ended in a draw.

All the players united pre-match in protest as much as in prayer at the madness of what had happened in Christchurch earlier in the afternoon.

The champion Crusaders Super Rugby team, based in Christchurch, gave up the chance to extend their Super Rugby record to 20 successive wins. They asked for the fixture to be declared a nil-nil draw. The Highlanders agreed.

Consideration is being given to changing the franchise name because of how the name “Crusader” could historically be interpreted.

Sport, so much about tribal triumph, could not be at war last weekend in New Zealand. The country called for unity and it got just that. The New Zealand cricket Test against Bangladesh was cancelled as a country mourned the moment its political and social landscape changed forever.

For those of you unfamiliar with New Zealand, consider this: this year the country was ranked by the Global Peace Index as the second-safest country in the world after Iceland.

In the last decade, between 40 and 50 murders happened a year in New Zealand, which equates to 10 to 12 murders per million population per year. Significantly, only one in 10 homicides in New Zealand involves a firearm.

This is the perspective that also needs to be on that podium of disbelief and disgust.

Close to 50 000 people practise Islam in New Zealand, which is just 1% of the population, and the first Muslims arrived in Christchurch in 1874. It took the madness of an Australian lunatic right-wing extremist to get us to the point where nowhere in the world, with the possible exception of Iceland, will anyone feel safe.

It also highlighted how one man’s hatred can cause such devastation to so many. More than 50 worshippers died in the Christchurch attack, but the deaths extend to so many more in families and friends.

Sport is pivotal to the people of New Zealand’s sense of self. And at no time has sport and those sports people been so important to the aftermath.

All Blacks midfielder Sonny Bill Williams, who 10 years ago converted to Islam, is in Christchurch this weekend raising money for the families of the victims. His Auckland Blues franchise said it was never a discussion that he wouldn’t be released to serve in a greater capacity than inspirational rugby player.

Our own Stormers are in New Zealand at this time of mourning, reflection and introspection.

It is appropriate because there isn’t a South African team that speaks more powerfully to inclusiveness, unconditional acceptance and celebration of all that defines what being a South African should be post-apartheid.

The Stormers, in representation, speak to the wonderful cultural diversity of our country. They also speak to the notion that no one is more superior to another. They are unified people whose presence makes a statement of what is possible.

This week Sonny Bill Williams tweeted: “Speak the names of those who were lost, rather than the name of the man who took them.”

A tearful Williams, on the day news broke of the horror attack, also used his social media platforms to express his hurt and sadness. He did so by video and in text.

“Just sending out my duas and Inshallah everyone that’s been killed today Inshallah you guys are all in paradise and I am just deeply, deeply sad that this would happen in New Zealand.”

Williams, like so many, also prayed for peace and kindness in a world where not even New Zealand could escape hatred. Join him in his prayers this afternoon.

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