Life will never be the same for Siya Kolisi and his all-conquering World Champion Rainbow Warriors, writes Mark Keohane in his Independent Media and IOL Keo Corner column, but he urges South Africans to allow these players to be human.
The mass hysteria that followed the Springboks around the country for a week post their arrival back from Japan emphasises that these players left South Africa as rugby players but returned as the country’s most inspirational of sons.
They have been fêted and celebrated and the response to their winning effort can be likened to the kind of queues we witnessed during South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994.
Only Madiba could command a bigger public response than the current Springboks.
The Springboks are deserving of everything coming their way. They gave so much, sacrificed so much and bled for their country.
I interviewed South African Rugby Union president Mark Alexander earlier in the week and he told of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s message to the players and management before the World Cup final kick-off.
Ramaphosa had let all in the changeroom know that they weren’t simply playing a rugby final. He told them they were playing for so much more and he spoke of what victory would mean to the country.
He then implored them to win, on behalf of, and for all of, South Africa. He told the squad the country needed the boost of a World Cup triumph.
The scenes of the last week have seconded everything Ramaphosa said. It has been beyond huge. Alexander said that each squad member had accepted his and her responsibility to be good citizens of South Africa and wonderful ambassadors to the country, on and off the field.
He said no player, coach or member of the management ever had to be micromanaged. They had all bought into the ethos of the organisation and what it meant to be an inspiring and good South African.
To the Springboks and their coaching and management leadership, please one more bow before you leave the stage this season.
But as they leave to rest and then prepare for the challenge of being the hunted between 2020 and 2023 allow these men and women to be normal South Africans. Allow them to laugh, cry and slur after a few too many beers.
Their rugby exploits have made them instant superheroes. But it doesn’t mean they suddenly become immune to mistakes, to bad days, to poor choices and to indifference. Treat them as the men and women they were two months ago.
It is unfair to have any social expectation of these players and coaches.
Expect them to kick on as rugby players because of their athleticism and skill, but don’t anoint them saints on the basis of World Cup glory.
The greatest of sportsmen, Muhammad Ali, and the most inspiring human being I’ve ever met, Nelson Mandela, often reiterated that they were as much sinners as they were saints.
Both these giants of the last century pleaded for perspective in how society viewed them. They were human beings whose lives played out on the biggest stage, but they were as vulnerable as the next person.
Keep this in mind as we move into the 2020 season with those World Cup-winning Springboks who will still be playing. When they do stumble or stagger in a way unbecoming of fictitious superheroes, cut them some slack and recognise that they are as mortal as you and I. It is after all one thing to chase the crown, and an entirely different thing to wear it.
*Keohane is an award-winning sports journalist and a regular contributor to Independent Media sport