Boks in need of World Cup
Of course the 2023 Rugby World Cup should go to South Africa. The recommendation the Rainbow Nation host the tournament will be considered this week by World Rugby — though many, perhaps even most, rugby folk favour Ireland and France; there are even veiled threats of legal action.
But there are considerations far beyond rugby promoting South Africa ahead of the other candidates.
It’s been estimated the RWC will bring almost $3 billion into the South African economy. That is significant because South Africa’s growth rate last year was a measly 0.3 per cent and it moved into recession in the first quarter of this year.
At least 5 per cent growth is needed before poverty and unemployment can be tackled effectively. More than 55 per cent of South Africans (about 30 million) live under the poverty line (down from 66 per cent). Unemployment now stands at just under 28 per cent, the worst for 14 years.
Even more worryingly, 39 per cent of the unemployed have never had a job. Ever. That figure rises to 60 per cent for youth.
No one is pretending a single RWC will work an economic miracle. But it may give the country a shot in the arm — socially, economically and rugby-wise — that Ireland and France do not need quite as much.
The stats above help explain the violent crime and the shanty towns still fringing the big cities. Those shanties once produced the spark that became the anti-apartheid flame. They used to rail against racial inequality; now they demonstrate against elementary amenities denied them by underfunded councils or corrupt officials.
There are rugby reasons, too. Few who witnessed the 1995 World Cup in South Africa will forget the joy the Springboks’ win brought to a still divided nation, the moral and cultural healing led by Nelson Mandela.
Some attitudes took longer to heal. In 2003, Springbok forward Geo Cronje was banned from World Cup selection after he was accused of not wanting to share a room with a “player of colour”.
And, yes, the Boks have won two World Cups since re-admission — but no one would suggest the Boks are as strong now as the brooding, committed powerhouses for so long the nemesis of All Black rugby.
South Africa operates a quota system for its Super Rugby teams and for the Springboks — called, in the curious nomenclature of the times, “transformation” players . . . quota players apparently being too demeaning. There is no question this has contributed to the Boks’ decline. It may be a noble goal politically and socially but it comes with major mental and physical handicaps.
The Boks’ 57-0 loss against the All Blacks would never have happened in the old days. Integration of players is a questionable achievement if the Bok game doesn’t survive the transformation.
More than one coach has been criticised for not including more coloured players. One politician complained former coach Jake White had stifled blacks’ selection because he wanted the team to be a winning one. “It’s not about a winning team,” said the politician. “It’s about a winning team that has the support of the country behind it.”
Former Bok skipper Naas Botha criticises the way transformation is used to excuse the Springboks’ decline; he blames diminished skill levels in South African rugby: “I just get fed up with people saying the quota system is the problem,” he told the Guardian this week. “Absolute nonsense. We lose because we’re not playing well.”
One of the foremost thinkers in South African rugby, record-setting former coach Nick Mallett, says the political goal of 50 per cent black players in the Boks team is close.
“. . . it is possible to get close to that 50 per cent mark even now. But the coaches and selectors haven’t used their brains. We even picked a white halfback, Francois Hougaard, on the wing. It was a poor decision because we have some great black wingers. It was a real slap in the face of any competitive black player,” he told the Guardian.
So what does all this have to do with the hosting of a World Cup? Simply this: World Rugby talks about growing the game globally. Let’s grow it first in a former stronghold suffering hard times.
A World Cup in South Africa could, with adroit management and selections, see a truly integrated Bok team performing well on the world stage — which would surely help revive Springbok fortunes and bring sport’s uniting and healing qualities into play. It’s also just the right thing to do.
Staging the Rugby World Cup in South Africa would be good for the nation’s economy — and the Boks.