South Africa has always been country where racism and discrimination is entrenched and institutionalised at all levels even in sport. There’s no disputing the close connection between politics and sports especially at the back of sport being used as a vehicle to rid the country of apartheid, as well as sport being used as a tool for reconciliation and to unite the nation by Tata Nelson Mandela. However despite all efforts the status quo and challenges of the day still persist and the silence from all sportsmen and women, rugby players and football players alike, is deafening.
Each sport has its own relationship to the said historical problems faced by the country and it does not take too much scrutiny to delve into the everyday difficulties that the prior generations of black footballers and rugby players faced from the advent of the liberation to today. It is a known fact that most professional footballers are inherently historically disadvantaged individuals and many a time, one has read stories of footballers being broke in no time post retirement. The black rugby players are continually spat out by a system that was designed in its nature to prejudice black people whilst advancing white peoples cause.
However, regardless of how much we lavish objectify and put praise upon these sportsmen and women, these heroes are but people too, existing in the same time, place, and cultural moment as the rest of us. They often face the same discrimination, albeit in more veiled forms, that the general population faces. Therefore it is all the more impressive when they are able to shoulder that burden and rise to the occasion in response to the madness swirling around us and speak out. As is unfortunately the case, the struggles that we require our sports celebrities to stand against are often those of prejudice and injustice, simply due to the high proportion of black sports players living in a white-dominated economy. Racial issues and sports are not allowed to exist in a vacuum, as they serve to inform and influence one another. Nor is the plight of footballers wages and sports allowed to exist in a vacuum, as they serve to influence one another also.
South Africa’s history of fighting apartheid through sports serves as a present-day condemnation of the professional sports and their athletes in the new democratic dispensation. By describing how past athletes used their elevated positions as cultural icons and public figures to combat injustices like racism, poverty and exclusion reveals the pervasive ignorance and indifference seen in an overwhelming majority of today’s spoiled, underpaid, self-absorbed professional footballers and other athletes.
What we seeing in the present day is a generation of fcuk boys who have no inclination of consciousness towards the challenges their own communities face on a daily basis but run around social media changing girlfriends and cars like they inherited trust funds. There is no reason why footballers cannot stand in solidarity with the rugby counterparts on issues of transformation and with the rest of the country on issues of racism or minimum wage by wearing T-shirts or commenting on social media and visa-versa. There is no reason why black rugby players cannot actively voice their own concerns and tell their own stories of the plight they go through.
Some of the rugby franchises for example have gone out and actively supported the cause for cancer as it is a subject which affects a large portion of the white population. Racism affects an even larger section of the black population and thus should receive the same attention and those franchises should not attempt to silence players on issues related to racism. Secondly the white counterparts are outspoken and openly racist, like when Jaques Kallis openly expressed his embarrassment at being called a South African after Minister of Sports Fikile Mbalula put a ban on four of the country’s sports federations from hosting or bidding for major tournaments due to the lack of transformation. Why the silence from the black sportsmen and women activists who were supposed to be in support of the minister?
In conclusion our local stars should follow the example of Lebron James and the likes and start speaking out about their own plight and the plight of the people in their communities. We not saying people shouldn’t enjoy their celebrity status, but we asking for substance. We can’t continue fighting the fight whilst all the athletes continue to be mute and not tell their own stories.
Mncedi Mabona for Grit Sports