Wed, Aug 22, 2007 - Page 18 News List

Springboks face opponents both at home and abroad

AFP , JOHANNESBURG

In a little more than two weeks time the Springboks will set out to win back the World Cup they won in 1995 by defeating favorites New Zealand in the final.

It was a wonderful day for the new South African "rainbow nation," just a year after the country's first democratic elections and just three years after the mighty Springbok rugby team was allowed back into international sport.

But after winning the tournament 12 years ago and representing the nation at the 1999 and 2003 tournaments, it may be the last time the South African rugby team -- one of the powerhouses of the sport -- run out at the event as the Springboks.

While the South Africans will go into this year's World Cup as one of the favorites, they will also be a team closely watched back home by the politicians who'll not only be eager to see them lift the trophy, but also give the six black players in the 30-man squad as much game time as possible.

Politics

Politics and rugby in South Africa go hand-in-hand and while the politicians have not made a peep about the composition of the team since its announcement a few weeks ago, the players and management team heading to France know they will be closely monitored.

Jake White has been criticized on numerous occasions since taking up the position of head coach in 2004 for not selecting enough black players, while the ANC-led government have also had their say about the lack of transformation in the 'Bok team.

There have also been murmurings about politicians pushing to see the end of the leaping Springbok -- the symbol of national rugby in the country.

The South African rugby team has been known as the Springboks since 1906 and while other sporting codes in the country have systematically abolished the Springbok as the national team's emblem since 1992 -- when apartheid ended and South African teams were allowed back into the international fold -- South African rugby has hung on to the talismanic emblem.

It is seen by many, especially the black leaders of the country, as a symbol of racist sport and apartheid.

Cricket and other sporting codes have adopted the king protea -- South Africa's national flower -- as their official emblem.

Earlier this year, ANC spokesman Smuts Ngonyama said: "Within the context of nation building, the creation of a non-racial, non-sexist South Africa, it is imperative that we rally around single emblems and symbols."

Not only may it be the last time the South African rugby team play as the Springboks at a World Cup, it may also be the last time the team is coached by a white man.

It may also be the last time the majority of the side is white.

Transformation

Transformation at senior level has been slow on the domestic front, with the authorities unable to make the kind of progress the politicians are looking for.

With rugby still considered by many in South Africa the traditional sport of the white Afrikaner, some members of the government are displeased.

Just weeks ago there were newspaper reports that the first 'Bok team of next year would have 10 black players in the starting XV and the coach would also be a black man, current South Africa under-21 coach Peter de Villiers.

Other newspapers said there would be up to eight black players in a 'Bok 22-man squad, but that those black players who'd already won three caps at international level would not be considered part of the quota.

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