One trend that is disturbing among black supporters is the belief that a black player is beyond criticism, especially if the analyst is white, writes Mark Keohane. And that any criticism is racism.
So much of the South African rugby supporter’s thinking plays out on social media every day and every day provides a marketing sample of trends.
One trend that is disturbing among black supporters is the belief that a black player is beyond criticism, especially if the analyst is white.
Victor Matfield, in his role as a SuperSport analyst, criticized the selection of Damian Willemse on the bench if his role was to be a back-up goalkicker, as well as fullback, wing, centre and flyhalf cover.
For those not versed with the Boks selections, having a player of Willemse’s versatility allows the Springbok coach to pick six forwards and only two backs in his match day 23 when it comes to the substitutes.
Willemse, asked to kick a late conversion to put the Springboks clear against Australia, missed.
Matfield, in his summary, complimented the skill and ability of Willemse but questioned whether the player currently is good enough to fulfil that role. He said he would have preferred the insurance policy of a specialist goalkicker on the bench. It is a view shared by many, be that specialist kicker Morne Steyn or Elton Jantjies.
Matfield also said that he felt it was unfair on Willemse to expect him to take on that responsibility when his game was not equipped for it.
Rather predictably, race immediately entered the social media discussions. Why didn’t Matfield take aim at Bok flyhalf Handre Pollard, who missed eight points through erratic goalkicking? Why was it the black player’s fault? How could he question Willemse’s ability? Was it because of the colour of his skin?
For every white supporter who can’t see beyond colour and believes every player of colour is a political selection and a quota selection, there is the black supporter who believes that to criticize a player of colour is confirmation of racism.
It is such nonsense, and it insults the player of colour as much as the disbelieving white supporter does when he or she just can’t get it that the player of colour is playing because he is the best rugby playing option.
Rassie Erasmus, more than any national coach in Springbok rugby’s history, crushed the thinking that when it comes to the Springboks ‘white is right’ and merit means white and player of colour means quota and nothing more than a political appointment.
Erasmus picked the most transformed Springboks squad in the history of the game and beat the All Blacks in New Zealand and won the World Cup. His successor Jacques Nienaber, previously his assistant coach, entrusted the core group that won the World Cup and these players beat the mighty British & Irish Lions 2-1 in a three-Test series that only happens every 12 years.
Erasmus made Siya Kolisi his captain and every time Kolisi’s playing pedigree has been questioned, the player has responded through performance. Kolisi was the first to say that when he gets substituted on the hour it is because his tank is empty. It was a rugby decision. When he plays for 80 it is because the coaches believe he has something left in the tank. It is a rugby decision.
When Pollard, the vice-captain, got substituted on 65 minutes against Australia, as had happened in the third and final Test against the Lions, it was a rugby decision.
When Steven Kitshoff is rotated with Trevor Nyakane it is a rugby decision – and vice versa – and should either one of the first choice Bok hookers, one black and one white, get criticized for, say poor throwing in, it is a rugby criticism.
The criticism of Willemse by Matfield, among many, was that the player should not have been given that role when he doesn’t even kick for his provincial and regional team.
Matfield’s views were aimed at the function of the role and had nothing to do with the colour of the player asked to fulfil that function.
For black rugby supporters to even suggest Matfield’s inference was colour-coded is as big an insult to Willemse, as those white supporters who can’t look beyond colour in believing that colour is the only reason Willemse is in the match-day 23.