28 February 2007
For many South Africans, sport is the glue that holds them together. It’s a real love affair.
In a country that boasts a great climate for outdoor activity, there are plenty of participants, and even more fans, focused mainly only soccer, cricket and rugby, but going far beyond the country’s “big three”.
Much has changed in SA sport in the 10 years since the country became a democracy. For millions it has meant a real chance to participate; new role models have emerged; some stars and teams have risen while others have fallen; important administrative changes have taken place; there have been great triumphs and heart-breaking defeats.
Through it all, though, South Africa’s sports addiction has remained constant.
In international competition it has, predictably, been a roller-coaster ride. It’s difficult to evaluate the success that democracy has brought, because back in 1996 South Africa’s soccer team, Bafana Bafana, were the continental champions, the Springboks were top of the rugby world, and the one-day cricket team was arguably the best outfit in the game. Since that time the national sides have gone through many ups and downs.
The rugby team has won the Tri-Nations title on a few occasions and the cricket team has ascended to the number one ranking in the one-day game, while Bafana Bafana have struggled somewhat, but the looming 2010 World Cup in South Africa has given the team a fantastic opportunity to re-establish itself near the top of the world rankings.
Democracy, though, has helped bring about the emergence of athletes who would never have emerged without. Today, they provide role model’s for youngsters to look up to.
Making their mark
For young soccer players with stars in their eyes, the playing fields of Europe, home to the richest leagues in the world, are the target. Men like Lucas Radebe, Benni McCarthy, Bradley Carnell, Delron Buckley, Aaron Mokoena, Shaun Bartlett and Mark Fish have made this possible.
For rugby-playing youngsters, South Africa still holds the greatest promise, but European nations, especially England, Wales, France and Italy, are increasingly hungry for the talented players the land of the Springbok churns out.
Men like Mark Andrews, Andre Vos, Nick Mallett, Alan Solomons, Gary Teichmann, Robbie Kempson and Franco Smith have made their mark in the cooler climes of Europe.
Cricketers, too, have enjoyed great success overseas. Although that was the case years ago, there has been a huge increase in the number of players now making a living overseas. Like rugby, though, playing cricket at home still remains the number one prize.
Those who have excelled in the English County Championships include Jonty Rhodes, Jacques Kallis, Shaun Pollock, Allan Donald, Darryl Cullinan, Kevin Pieterson and Mornantau Hayward.
Doors wide open
Democracy has meant opportunities for all South Africans in more sports than SA’s big three, however – a fact attested to by stars like Hezekiel Sepeng, 800 metres silver medallist at the Atlanta Olympics, Mbulaeni Mulaudzi, who won silvers in the 800 metres at both the World Championships and the Olympics Games, and two-time world high jump champion Hestrie Cloete.
Swimming provided a massive highlight at the Athens Olympics when South Africa won the high profile men’s 4 by 100 metres freestyle relay in a world record time. Roland Schoeman has set a number of world records, and Natalie du Toit has become a superstar in events for swimmers with a disability, even competing with success against able-bodied athletes.
Also in the water, South Africans have excelled in canoeing and surf ski racing. Both Hank McGregor and Shaun Rubenstein have won canoe marathon world titles, while South Africa has been the dominant force in the world in surf ski racing.
The Rainbow Nation continues to produce some of the world’s finest golfers, with Ernie Els and Retief Goosen both long-time fixtures in the world’s top-10. Just behind them players like Trevor Immelman, Tim Clark, Rory Sabbatini, and Charl Schwartzel regularly make their presence felt.
Other stars have emerged like mountain bike ace Greg Minnaar who has tasted success in the downhill all around the world, including becoming world champion. The marathon has also seen Hendrik Ramaala win in New York, Gert Thys in Seoul, and wheelchair superstar Ernst van Dyk dominate the Boston Marathon, as well as recording numerous other successes all over the world.
There will always be ups and downs, but choosing teams from the entire population, not from a select group, will surely see South Africa becoming one of the world’s great sporting nations. The rainbow nation’s passion for sport will take us there – see if it doesn’t.
SA sport: 10 times 10
Here are my 10 reasons for loving South African sport:
- Rugby’s weighty legacy
- Cricket: heartbreak, innovation
- Golf: setting standards
- Boxing: SA’s world beaters
- SA’s endurance sport love affair
- A climate made for sport
- Sensational stadiums
- Fantastic fans
- Hosting the big events