Notes from underground

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Thoughts on the 2019 Rugby World Cup

Yesterday South Africa won the Rugby World Cup (RWC), beating England 32-12.

It was quite a big deal. It’s one of the few sporting fields where South Africa has excelled, though most seem to have been unaware that we won the African Netball Chamionship in 2019 as well, but perhaps for a macho nation that isn’t so important because netball is played by women.

I watched the first half of the RWC on TV, but at halftime I had to go to fetch my wife Val from hospital where she had just had a knee operation. There was very little traffic on the roads — it seemed that everyone was at home watching it on TV. Listening on the radio was a bit confusing, because the commentators mentioned the names of the players, but not which teams they were playing for, so unless it was an obviously South African name one wasn’t sure which team was getting the ball.

We were permitted to watch the final, but for most South Africans the route by which South Africa got to the final was obscure, because only the rich were permitted to watch it on TV, as it was on the most expensive pay channel, and so probably most South Africans who watched the final were seeing the team in action for the first time. They didn’t know who the players were, and their faces were unfamiliar.

The net effect of this is that rugby will remain an elite sport. For most young people their sporting heroes will not be rugby players, but players of sports that the hoi polloi are permitted to watch regularly. I recall how much soccer increased in popularity after the whole of the 1990 Soccer World Cup was broadcast in South Africa in 1990 for the first time. But rugby seems to be condemned to obscurity. A pity, because South Africa has won the Rugby World cup three times, but has never won the world cup in soccer or cricket, the other popular team sports.

On the question and answer site Quora someone asked:

What does South Africa’s 2019 Rugby World Cup mean to its citizens? What are some of the social implications of their triumph on the pitch?

And my answer was that it was cheering, to those who might have been worried when one of those ratings agencies pronounced South Africa’s economic prospects to be “negative”. So it was nice to have some good news for a change. We may have high unemployment, but at least we play rugby better than anyone else in the world.

Many pictures have been posted on social media to illustrate South Africa’s reaction to winning the Rugby World Cup for the third time in 24 years, but I think the two photos here sum up the reaction best.





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One thought on “Thoughts on the 2019 Rugby World Cup

  1. Irulan on said:

    as a 50-something fan I have watched the all editions since 1995. My sense is that there has been a steady increase in black participation observable each year in the Currie Cup and Super Rugby. Just as significantly, this year’s win seems to have evoked unprecedented black fan support. Siya Kolisi isn’t just the captain; he’s ‘our’ captain.

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