I decided that I would watch some of the opening match of the World Cup. As I watched I had an uncomfortable struggle. On one hand I would love to see South Africa win this game, on the other hand I always struggle to support the football team of a country that is big into rugby. My fear is that everyone will start following football and rugby will suffer as a sport. I realise that this reflects an intolerable narrow-mindedness on my part. It is also silly as South Africa don't have much of a hope in the world cup, and even if they did well rugby will remain strong in that country. My bias towards rugby is simply based on the fact that I have always been useless at football, whereas for a couple of years I was quite good at rugby.
Then an uncomfortable thought entered my head. 'Surly rugby has a dubious history, particularly when it comes to South Africa!' For years rugby was not a welcoming world for black South Africans. Then there is the shame of those tours that broke the sporting ban and visited the country (reflecting the South African rugby union's resistance of sanctions, and being a dismal legacy for the players who travelled) . Rightful anger was expressed by many when the South Africa toured New Zealand in 1981 (a New Zealander told me that many were disillusioned with rugby after it).
Add this to the elitist nature of rugby in many parts of the world. It remains a predominantly white sport in South Africa, is the preserve of grammar (or private schools) school in Cork, Leinster, Ulster and Australia. It has been said that it is only the people's sport in Limerick, the valleys of Wales, and New Zealand. Then there is the narrow mindedness of many rugby playing schools that will not let soccer be played, because it might threaten the rugby (and hockey), even though many of the pupils would love to have a football team.
I still think rugby is a wonderful game. But maybe it is time for my protectionist attitude to be gone. It is also time for me to forgive football for the pain of regularly being among the last to be picked when we were playing football.
For further thoughts on Rugby and apartheid look up: