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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.





Manufacturing news

We’ve known for a long time that the media don’t like reporting news, but prefer to manufacture it, but I don’t think it’s ever been as blatant as this: Louis van Gaal says ‘it’s over’ with Jose Mourinho tipped to take over at Manchester United | Football News | Sky Sports:

United have no plans for a victory parade in Manchester, and the club are believed to be angry that news of Mourinho’s potential appointment has overshadowed the club’s first FA Cup win since 2004 and first piece of silverware since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson.

And they’re right to be angry.

  • Manchester United winning the cup is news
  • Media speculation that Mourinho will take over from van Gaal is not news

I very much hope that Manchester United will resist the intense media pressure to replace Louis van Gaal as manager with Jose Mourinho.

MUFCThe media have had their collective knives into Louis van Gaal since before Christmas, just as they have had their knives into Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders.

But are they so narcissistic as to believe that their speculation is news, and more important than the news of Manchester United willing the English (or is it the Emirates?) FA Cup?

Journalism and journalistic standards surely can’t sink any lower.





And so it ends

For a month we’ve had the soccer World Cup, and last night it ended. In some ways we’re sorry. As far as the matches themselves were concerned, we watched them all on TV, so it might just as well have been anywhere else in the world. We did try to get tickets to the Serbia-Ghana match in the local stadium at Loftus Versfeld, but the online booking system kept saying that there were no tickets available, though when we watched it on TV, there did seem to be some empty seats — perhaps those were the more expensive ones.

But even so, it had an effect on local life, and now that it is over we’ll miss it. We’ll miss meeting foreign teams and fans in shopping malls. One of the advertising slogans was “Feel it – it is here” and it was. There was a palpable air of excitement. And it also became the subject of jokes. The World Cup is usually held in the northern hemisphere, but here it was midwinter, and some fans in Polokwane (normally one of the warmer towns in South Africa) carried a sign saying “Feel it — it is cold”. A local radio station commented on a news report that 46000 sex workers would be converging on South Africa for the World Cup, said “Feel them — they are here.”

People drove around with flags on their cars, and yes, they probably wasted a bit of petrol, but they also were conversation starters with strangers in the street, the newspaper sellers, the garage attendants, “Who will win?” and when South Africa was out, “Who do you hope will win?” It broke through the urban reserve, and made people more friendly. And it was good to see two teams that had never won it before in the final.

Our neighbourhood crime watch predicted an increase of crime durung the World Cup, as police were redeployed to match venues. But the police who were left seemed to be extra-vigilant, patrolling more, and actually there seemed to be less crime than usual during this period. There were warnings of child abductions by human traffickers, but there didn’t seem to be a great increase in those either.

The dire predictions in the overseas press (especially the British) about how disastrous it would be were never fulfilled. Some British newspapers produced an “expert” who predicted earthquakes in Durban and Cape Town during the World Cup, even though no part of South Africa lies in a major earthquake zone. In fact the 2012 Olympic Games in London are more likely to be disrupted by volcanoes. The London Daily Mail in particular appended to every report of crime in South Africa the observation that South Africa was to be the host of the 2010 World Cup. Well, there were no earthquakes, and no terrorist bombs wiping out Spanish and Dutch royalty and other VIPs at the final.

Among the high points was the referee from Uzbekistan, who reffed the opening match. Kudos to him. Among the low points was Uruguay’s cheating to reach the semi-finals. We listened to the 3rd/4th place playoff on the radio as our son was watching a movie on TV, and the booing when Suarez (Uruguay’s cheater in chief) got the ball was audible above the droning of the vuvuzelas. Among the entertaining diversions was Paul the Octopus’s uncannily accurate predictions of the results of the last few matches, which coincided with the feast of St Euphemia the Martyr and so provided material for my sermon on Sunday morning.

The opening and closing ceremonies seemed pretty good as such things go, but then we’ve had experience of such things before, having hosted the rugger World Cup an 1995 and the African Cup of Nations soccer tournament in 1996, both of which we won, and temporarily, at least, they helped to foster a sense of national unity. Those for the cricket world cup a few years ago were also quite memorable, even though we didn’t win that time. And for this World Cup they were at least as good as the extravaganza put on at Beijing for the Olympic Games two years ago, without going on for too long.

At the closing ceremony I first became aware of the World Cup theme song, “Waka Waka”, sung by Shakira (whom I’d never heard of). The song that I associate with the World Cup is the Coca Cola advertising song, “When I get older, I will be stronger”, which seemed to be much more prominent, and probably shows just how commercial the whole thing is.

And here are some assessments of the World Cup by foreign journalists, some positive, some negative, noting that the core of the World Cup is big business.

Celizic: World Cup well worth the cost for South Africa:

Despite dire predictions, the stadiums were finished on time, the infrastructure improvements got done, security was leakproof and, other than some minor hearing loss, no one got hurt.

Spain won the Cup for the first time, the final was an entertaining — more so for all the fouls — match, an octopus became the Edgar Cayce of soccer psychics and the folks who keep track of such things say that as many as a billion people watched the final match.

Yeah, South Africa needs a lot of improvements in a lot of areas, just like most other countries in the world. Yeah, there are other places the reported $4 billion it took to build all the new stadiums could have been spent.

But this was money spent on an event that riveted South Africa’s attention for years and consumed it for a summer. It was money that made people feel good about themselves and their nation. It brought people from all over the world to a place they otherwise never would have visited. For the past month, I’m sure, life was pretty exciting in South Africa.

And, on the minus side: Bye South Africa, thanks for being had by us – The Irish Times – Mon, Jul 12, 2010:

And the corporate partners know how to use the muscle. In the World Cup zone you can only use an ATM if you have a Visa card. McDonalds are everywhere. This column attended a domestic league match here during a working visit eight years ago and the walk to the stadium was a long ramble and graze through a never-ending line of street vendors. For the World Cup, that particular flavour of Africa has been disappeared. Sponsors’ tents are the only thing selling anything within the commercial exclusion zone around the grounds.

The humourless nature of this pin-striped Mafia pervades everything. The heavy-handed treatment of the brewer Bavaria Beer for its amusing skirmishes was no surprise to those who had watched the local budget airline, Kulula, suffer the threat of legal action for using the mildly amusing slogan “the unofficial national carrier of you know what”. Even the acts which opened and closed the tournament to such high visibility were bought in from a international promoter with just a token smidgin of African music thrown in.

But even being aware of that, I think the positives outweighed the negatives. And some of the positives were apparent even before the opening match. Loftus Versveld rugby stadium in Pretoria needed to be prepared for the World Cup, so the Super-14 rugby matches were transferred to Orlando Stadium in Soweto, 50 miles away. The supporters of the Blue Bulls, the Pretoria rugby team, are largely Afrikaans-speaking, and twenty years ago most of them would have been supporters of the National Party. And what took place was a minor transformation.

Our transformation challenge: The Blue Bulls show the way! – South Africa – The Good News:

“Transformation is first about behaviour and second about attitude,” a sweaty, vuvuzela-blowing, horns-in-hard-hat Blue Bulls supporter said as he offered me a Captain and Coke in a shebeen deep in Orlando West. “I used to think it was the other way around, but crossing the boerewors curtain, coming to Soweto and watching die Bulle, my manne, wen has changed my life forever” he enthused.

“And if they’d lost?” I innocently enquired.

“Ag, voetsek man!” he laughed.

But therein lies the rub. But for the change of venue 60 000 Bulls supporters would not have made it to the semi-final and the final in Soweto. They would have played at Loftus and their attitude would have stayed north of the curtain.

When residents of the still largely white suburbs of Pretoria braaied on the streets with residents of the still overwhelmingly black Soweto, something has changed, and some of the wounds inflicted by apartheid are beginning to heal.

Spreadsheet for World Cup fans

My wife Val is a football fanatic, and also has the calculating mind in our family, and has designed a spreadsheet to keep track of the World Cup results.

If anyone is a soccer stats freak, you might like to try it. A tiny corner of it is shown below, but there is much more than that.

You enter the results of each match as it is played, and it will predict who will play who in the next found. It also keeps track of yellow and red cards, and things like that.

Don’t try it unless you are really interested if both football and stats, though. It’s 5 Mb, and there’s nothing in it that you won’t be able to find on the web or in the paper the next day

South Africa Pts Mexico Pts Uruguay Pts France Pts
0 0 0
0 0 0
0 0 0
0 0 0

If you would like to try it, e-mail and ask for a copy. It is in MS Excell, but it also seems to work in the Open Office spreadsheet program.

Val also notes:

In 1966 when England were the home team and won the world cup their first round group consisted of


is this a sign!

Confederations Cup 2009 and World Cup 2010

South Africans have often been criticised for poor attendance at international football matches, so that there is some concern about filling the venues for the Confederations Cup later this year, which is regarded as a curtain-raiser for the World Cup next year.

But perhaps the soccer administrators should look at other sports, as well as at their own past successes. There doesn’t seem to have been much difficulty in filling stadiums for the IPL cricket matches, and they aren’t even really international. But there has been a lot of imaginative promotion, while the Confederations Cup has been almost kept a secret.

Never mind the IPL — look at the Africa Cup of Nations which South Africa hosted and won in 1996.

For months before the competition, publicity was good. Kids were urged to collect cards of the players and buy books to stick them in. Bookshops like the CNA had books with a history of the competition, information about the teams taking part and the key players, and biographies of the South African squad. I haven’t seen that sort of think either for the Confederations Cup or the World Cup.

In 1996 school kids, even those who were not hardened soccer fans, knew most of the SA team members, which clubs they played for, their strengths and weaknesses. They urged their parents to buy the cards and the books, and as a result the parents, even if not hardened soccer fans, also learnt something about the teams, and the SA players.

But this time round there’s nothing like that. Most people don’t know who is playing, where they come from, or even what the Confederations Cup is.

It’s time for the soccer administrators to pull finger and get some real publicity going.

It’s just not cricket

Justice triumphed when England lost a one-day cricket match to New Zealand because of a fielding error on the last ball. An overthrow enabled New Zealand to get the crucial last run.

BBC SPORT | Cricket | England | Last-ball error hands NZ victory:

New Zealand won a remarkable one-day international when England somehow allowed last man Mark Gillespie to hit two from the final ball of the match.

He scampered a single and came back for the overthrow when Graeme Swann’s shy at the stumps was not backed up.

Earlier, Grant Elliott, guiding the tourists home, was controversially run out as he was injured in a collision with England’s Ryan Sidebottom.

The wicket could have been crucial, but England’s modest 245 was not enough.

I think most people who watched the match thought that it was supremely unfair that Elliot should have been given out after what looked like a rugby tackle by Sidebottom, and rejoiced greatly that the English fielding bungle enabled New Zealand to win.

Perhaps the rules should be changed to say that a batsman cannot be given out in a run out if physically obstructed by a member of the fielding team, otherwise cricket could turn into a variant of Red Rover.

Well done Zim!

It may be a moot point whether South Africa will be ready for 2010, but Zimbabwe were certainly ready for 2020 tonight, and Australia obviously weren’t!

I didn’t think I’d watch this cricket-lite, but Zimbabwe’s performance had me glued to the telly.

A very good start to the tournament!

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