The death of sportsmanship
It was such a refreshing change from Super Rugby when I found myself a week ago at the Affies-Waterkloof schools derby among some 15 000 other folk, and found that sportsmanship still does exist in crowds.
Every time a kick was lined up at posts, the crowd went “sssshhh” and fell into a deathly silence as the kicker lined up for his shot at posts. Once it was over they broke out either into wild celebration or into a slow hand clap, depending who they were obviously supporting.
It got me thinking: why have we lost the sportsmanship in our crowds nowadays? From Loftus Versfeld to Newlands, from Sydney and Christchurch, crowds feel it is right to boo an opposition kicker when he lines up a ball at posts.
It has even gone so far that some teams – like the Cheetahs and now the Stormers – have even started to play music as the opposition kicker lines up his shot at goal.
A few years ago continuity announcer Rian van Heerden was fired from his job at Loftus Versfeld for calling the Waratahs “sheep shaggers” over the stadium microphone. While Van Heerden revelled in the limelight and fretted over the injustice he was done, it was the right thing to do.
There have been cases where a certain ex-Director of Rugby has been accused of bugging team rooms, and change-rooms of opposition to learn their secrets at halftime and before the game. One Super Rugby team now stays on the field at halftime, ostensibly in fear of being bugged as they have been victims of this before.
In Bloemfontein, they enjoy playing music while the opposition kicker takes his aim, and then follow it up with his signature tune when he misses. On Saturday the Stormers reverted to playing their “Stormer” song whenever Morne Steyn lined up at the posts.
In South Africa, in particular, any call for a moment of silence is greeted with chatter, and never the respect such an occasion deserves.
There is no doubt the Bulls this past weekend asked for some stick with their pink outfits, and it was made even more ludicrous when their sponsors tried to convince everyone it was a “purple” kit.
And while Super Rugby is high-stakes action, with a lot on the line, surely there has to be some honour among thieves when it comes to hosting a game.
Don’t get me wrong, the banter between fans is one of the best things about rugby, and the bragging rights after a big victory means a lot to people who take this wonderful game of ours very seriously.
But why resort to underhanded tactics – like bugging a team room – or playing music when an opposition kicker takes aim? I accept that I may be idealistic in this, and probably will get slated for this in the comments section below, but surely we have to rise above this pettiness?
I remember having a late-night argument with a senior Free State rugby official who tried to convince me it was his job to do everything in his power to make sure the opposition kicker is put off when he takes his kicks.
I disagreed and still feel that if your team is good enough, they should be able to beat the opposition with their game plan, composure and by taking the chances that are offered to them.
After all, if not, then we are a small step away from the disgraceful isolated crowd incidents we have seen at stadiums in the past few years.
In the end if we look at the players, they have it right. While there may be some grudges that never see the public surface, after a tense game ends, they walk to each other and shake hands, exchanging pleasantries and often share a cold beverage afterwards in the changerooms.
The friendship supercedes the rivalry and the healthy respect they have for each other shines through. They don’t carry on like spoilt children, but are humble in victory and gracious in defeat. A prime example of this was how the All Blacks and Springboks shared a flight back to Johannesburg after last year’s match in Port Elizabeth.
Sitting on the same flight it was a pleasure to watch the likes of Jerome Kaino and Fourie du Preez share stories, Graham Henry and Heinrich Brussow talk about the aspects of the game and Danie Rossouw and Ali Williams laugh loudly at something they shared while sitting next to each other.
If the players can do it, then why can’t the administrators? Sure we all want to win, but do it honourably. And the same goes for the crowds. Booing a kicker may seem fun at the time, but it is disrespectful and shows the manner of sportsmanship and respect you have for the game.
Embrace those who visit your stadiums, enjoy their talent and be happy when your team matches up to them and wins fairly on the field. After all, as we are often reminded, it is only a game.
We all get emotional and hot under the collar at things that happen on the field, but the idealist in me would love to see a big stadium show the respect that schoolboys do in their games.
Somewhere we’ve lost our sportsmanship. Somehow we need to find a way to bring it back.