South Africa's Stade de France win is much bigger than rugby
Oct 21, 2007, 0:19 GMT
South Africa\'s rugby players celebrate with the World Cup trophy after winning the Rugby World Cup final match against England at the Stade de France stadium in Saint Denis, outside Paris, France, 20 October 2007. EPA/MIKAEL LIBERT
Paris - When a bloodied South African captain John Smit received the William Webb Ellis Cup from French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Saturday following his side's 15-6 victory against the defending champions England, it opened a door for South Africa that goes far beyond just the sport.
South African coach Jake White said that winning the World Cup is a massive thing for South Africa. 'It is not just about winning the World Cup.
'In 1995 when people asked us why we take the World Cup so seriously it was because a country like South Africa realized then what it actually means to win the World Cup. It is much bigger than any other win in the history of the World Cup.'
In 1995 many South Africans believed that winning the Rugby World Cup would herald the beginning of a wonderful future for the Rainbow Nation.
Embraced by all, the team consisting of mainly Afrikaaners who just a few years earlier had still been supportive of the Apartheid policies of the Pretoria government, the team was a symbol of the unity that most were hoping would engulf the country.
Just over 12 years later, the concept of the Rainbow Nation is far from being reality and while latent racial friction has little place in the country, it can similarly be said that South Africa is not as non-racial a society as people had been hoping it would become in the aftermath of that glorious victory at Ellis Park 12 years ago.
Crime and violence is ripping the country apart and a few days before the final in Paris, world-famous reggae artist Lucky Dube became yet another murder victim as he was gunned down in a highjacking attempt.
Saturday's victory against England in the Stade de France in St Denis on the outskirts of Paris has again presented the country with an opportunity to unite behind a successful rugby team.
In the run-up to the final, politicians from all parties came out in support of the side, which included just two black players in the starting line-up.
Amongst them were those of the ruling African National Congress, which not long ago had been criticising rugby officials for dragging the pace of transformation out much longer than acceptable and who were calling on rugby officials to stick to a quota of black players in their sides.
President Thabo Mbeki headed a list of South African politicians and other dignitaries who made the trip to Paris to watch the game and after Smit had received the trophy the players lifted Mbeki onto their shoulders.
'That was just an unbelievable experience. Seeing the president of our country on the shoulders of a player and wearing the blazer is a massive thing for our country,' said White.
'It is something to be really proud of and it does not get any bigger than that in the context of where we come from.'
Arguably, more important though, is the question of where South African rugby and South African society as a whole is going.
One of the stars in the side, Bryan Habana, who is one of the two black players who played in the final, said he knew that changes had to be made.
'I am sure that in the coming months, there will be changes and things will not be the same in a few months. But at the moment all we want to do is enjoy winning the trophy.
'The politicians must sort out all the politics,' he said.
Smit, though, said that he hoped that the victory would cool emotions in the country. 'I think there will always be talk of quotas. We have a real colourful country and we have diverse cultures.
'I just hope us winning this trophy will create a scenario that everybody can buy in together and we can start forgetting about counting numbers,' he said.© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur