Rugby Union

Kenny Archer: Sporting support shouldn't be motivated by bigotry

South Africa's Handre Pollard celebrates reaching the Rugby World Cup Final, where they'll face new (bookies') favourites England.

‘I’VE never met a nice South African…’

People of a certain age will have the tune to that song running through their head now, even though it may bring an uncomfortable feeling.

The writers got away with the sweeping generalisations in their lyrics because a majority of the minority white populace of South African supported the state’s appalling apartheid regime.

Perceptions of what it means to be South African have changed considerably since 1986, when that song was released by the satirical show ‘Spitting Image’ as the B-side to ‘The Chicken Song’.

Yet many here might happily still sing that song if the lyrics were altered to target the stereotypical ‘Englishman’.

The majority who take any interest will undoubtedly be supporting South Africa in this weekend’s Rugby World Cup Final against England, mostly for nationalistic reasons.

It cannot be denied by anyone sensible that while South Africa has improved, England has regressed in recent years.

The historic rivalry/ antipathy between Irish and English has been stoked up by Brexit, largely by the patronising, ignorant attitude emanating from ‘Little Englanders’.

I’ll bow to no one in my distaste for Boris Johnson and the current Conservative party cabal, who are disingenuous and dangerous people.

Yet they patently do not represent all ‘the English’, even if a sizeable section of their populace has been seduced by his lies and rhetoric, with nods to a bright future mirroring their ‘glorious’ past. Promising people ‘unicorns in Burma’, to quote that song again.

Similarly, those Liverpool supporters who made and displayed a racist banner about their own player, Divock Origi, no more represent me or the club than the Manchester United fan who was thrown out of Old Trafford for racially abusing a different Liverpool player, Trent Alexander-Arnold, stands for the Red Devils.

You can hate the ‘Little Englander’ mentality and its flag-wavers without hating the English, or their rugby team.

Indeed it’s probably best not to be like the chap who stood outside Croke Park in 2007 bearing a ‘No to foreign games’ sign – while wearing a Celtic top.

It’s rather bizarre to denigrate British and English culture while claiming to be an ardent supporter of Liverpool or Manchester United or Chelsea or whomever – English clubs playing a game the English (and Scottish) codified and brought to the wider world. Those latter words obviously apply to rugby too.

Think about how you’d feel and react if the words ‘the Irish’ or ‘Ireland’ were transposed into any adverse comment about ‘the English’ or ‘England’.

You’re not a liberal if you tar an entire nation/ people with the same brush.

That itself is bigotry, sad to say.

On the sporting side of things, any neutral would surely want England to triumph.

It doesn’t seem all that long ago (perhaps because yet another pathetic tournament showing from Ireland was fresh in the memory) that and England-South Africa Final was about to take place.

The difference in 2007 was me making the case that England deserved praise, rather than criticism, for their dogged, determined progress to the decider.

This time around South Africa are the grinders, while England are playing positive, purposeful attacking rugby.

Their semi-final performance against New Zealand was superb, but so was their quarter-final destruction of a good Australia team.

In contrast, the Springboks largely play unattractive, ‘up the jumper’, ten-man rugby, overpowering opponents with their brutal physical strength.

However, it does help that one of those 10 is their brilliant number nine, ‘Faf’ de Klerk.

The 5'7" scrum half is a reminder of those days when rugby truly was a game for all shapes and sizes instead of almost entirely being restricted to bulky behemoths.

And for all the sneering about teams who play a ‘kicking game’, his laser-like left—footer, launched tight to the LEFT touchline late in the semi-final, which landed deep in Welsh territory before bouncing out of play, was a thing of beauty, one of the most skilful moments in the entire tournament.

Just to be clear, I’ll not be cheering for England – nor for South Africa. Neither of them is my team, so I’ll simply watch and, hopefully, enjoy the game.

Pick a side if you want – but don’t make that choice based on bigotry.

The arguments that anti-English comments are ‘Only banter’ or that ‘It’s only sport’, don’t wash.

That great, liberal Englishman ‘George Orwell’ (who was born in India), has been quoted regularly from his essay ‘The Sporting Spirit’ in 1945, but his words always bear repetition:

“Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.”

In that article, Orwell also wrote: “I am always amazed when I hear people saying that sport creates goodwill between the nations…as soon as the question of prestige arises, as soon as you feel that you and some larger unit will be disgraced if you lose, the most savage combative instincts are aroused.”

In some ways society has improved since then. Support your own team by all means, but mass hatred of others only makes you hateful yourself.

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WHENEVER I head off for (Football) Allstars selection meetings I invariably cite the film ‘Twelve Angry Men’, suggesting that I’ll keep everyone in the room until they bend to my will.

Sadly – or happily, depending on your perspective – the Allstars selection system does not work like the jury system, and majority votes hold sway, rather than the agreement of everyone being required before a player makes the cut.

So you have to pick your battles, even when you know, absolutely know, that everyone else is wrong.

It’s clear that there’ll be unrest and unhappiness about this year’s selection (when is there not?) especially for the forward choices, given the quality of attacking play on display this year.

The sensible solution would be to pick an Allstars panel, including five substitutes, given how long everyone has been saying ‘it’s a squad game’.

Of course, 20 will still not please everyone, but at least there might be fewer angry men and women online.

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