In the first edition of ‘Fans View’, Sam Holmes, owner of the podcast “Kids Eat Toast Sometimes”, shares his views on how the process of punishment, rehabilitation and reintroduction should be handled with Argentinian captain Pablo Matera.
Sport has and always will have the ability to inspire and unite. For a glorious, 80 minutes, rugby allows us to forget about our worries and differences, as we collectively scream at a referee, whilst giants magnificently crash into each other over the possession of an oddly shaped, oval ball.
This is not to say that everything is all rosy. The flip side of rugby is that it is also capable of fragmenting society. For some this comes in the form of quota systems. It should not take much to understand the frustration of a young, white rugby player, who is told he is good enough to play in a provincial team, but not the ‘right colour’. Similarly, it should be easy to understand that the quota system is a necessary tool in redressing the unequal society that Apartheid has left us with.
I don’t write that lightly, nor with the hopes of starting a ‘quota war’, which sadly seems the way every sporting debate goes in South Africa. I write the above to illustrate the fact that sport is deeply political, whether you like it or not. Politics is about power and if you asked Rassie Erasmus what rugby is about – he would say the same, whilst adding “It’s obviously about power – but it’s also about fuhking the other team up”.
Rassie’s sailor mouth aside, what this means for us as fans is that rugby is not limited to the white lines our heroes charge around on every Saturday. Rugby players are not only accountable to coaches and referees – they are now accountable to society at large.
It has been widely covered that former, ex- captain, (wrap your head around that) Pablo Matera has spewed vile and racist messages on Twitter. The racist tweets range from being delighted to leave ‘a country full of blacks’ to waking up on a good morning for ‘driving over blacks’. The tweets are completely indefensible, so why are so many people in South Africa and abroad defending them?
Before answering that question, its worthwhile to leave our political leanings at the door and ask ourselves a few more questions:
What does a young, black rugby player think when his ex- hero confesses to wanting to run over people that look like him?
How does Owen Nkumane approach Matera for a post-game interview?
Does a young boy growing up in South Africa now believe that it’s alright to behave like Matera?
What does Siya Kolisi say when he has to shake Matera’s hand before a game?
Who knows how to answer the above. What is starkly apparent is the deafening silence of local and international rugby boards. Where is SARU? Where is the World Rugby? Are they so busy printing Black Lives Matter onto playing shirts that they can’t actually come to the defense of Black Lives when it really Matters?
The backlash surrounding Matera’s tweets are not the result of an out-of-control cancel culture, nor are the tweets poor jokes taken out of context. Simply put, they are a racist call to violence.
What’s done is done. It is now time to create some good out of a particularly poor moment in humanity. Ultimately, this starts with suspending the Argentine captain. This needs to be done publicly and quickly. Instead of exiling him for life – make sure that he is placed in a 3-6 month course that educates and reforms the way he thinks – again this needs to be done publicly and quickly.
Once Matera has completed the course, allow him to return to the field of play. This may seem highly contradictory to everything that I have just said – however, this is a great opportunity to change society. Matera is a phenomenal leader and as such his patriotism and influence can be harnessed to actively fight racism. Through reformed actions and leadership, he will be able to address not only the harm he has caused in the past, but so too, prevent events like this from happening in the future.
Instead of placing him in racist self-isolation for the rest of his career, which, some have called for – allow him and the world to learn from this racist incident and come back to create actual change.
If Matera is not decisively dealt with – the world should not be overly-surprised when Mr Malema is the first person to greet him at OR Tambo International Airport.
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