Soccer vs. Rugby: An Analysis of South African Sports

Just like everything else seems to be in South Africa, sports are also racially charged. So far during my trip I have attended both rugby and football (soccer) games. The crowds and atmospheres could not have been more different.

First things first: while watching the rugby game, I felt like a “girl” at a sporting event for the first time in my life. I understand the basic rules of rugby, but once the players try to get a little fancy I was completely lost. I am trying my best to become more of an expert, but even lifelong rugby players have trouble explaining the rules.

The game was between Western Province and the Sharks. And it was pouring rain. Thank goodness our seats were under the overhang, or I would have been the most unhappy girl. The rain kept away most of the fans, so the stadium was pretty empty. However, this meant that when the rain stopped we were able to move to the front row! It was really crazy to see all the intense action up close.

As I mentioned earlier, sports in South Africa are divided along racial lines. Rugby is predominately a “white” sport. This was also reflected in the demographic at the game. There seemed (to me) to be a definite air of privilege throughout the stadium, and the crowd was overwhelmingly white. Although there were some blacks and coloureds in attendance, it was definitely not the norm. The crowd clapped and cheered at the appropriate times, but did not seem too crazy. Maybe the lack of pizzazz was due to the yucky weather, but I did not have the feeling that being a crazy WP fan was normal. It was a very strange feeling to be surrounded by white people, because it is such a rare experience for me here in Cape Town. Working to understand the racial divide is something I struggle with every day. (Oh, WP lost… see how the mega sports fan in me was lost during this explanation?)

Football games could not be more different!

I have now been to two football games, both between the Kaizer Chiefs and Ajax Cape Town. I attended my first game in Johannesburg at Soccer City Stadium and the second at Cape Town Stadium this past weekend, both stadiums were made for the 2010 World Cup! The only word I can think to describe the games is CHAOS. You can seriously hear the vuvuzelas and other noise makers before the stadium even comes into view. Everyone is decked out in their teams’ gear and cheap merchandise can be purchased every 5 feet.

At both stadiums, there are general seating tickets. So each ticket costs the same (R40 or ~$6 USD) and you have your pick of any seat in the house. Soccer City was surprisingly empty… but that doesn’t mean the vuvuzelas weren’t absolutely insane. My group of friends seemed to be the only white people in the entire stadium. We were basically another spectacle besides the game for the other members of the crowd. We all decided to support the Kaizer Chiefs, so fellow Chiefs fans continuously came up to us, took our picture, wanted to take a picture with us, or just shout their support. The Chiefs PR department actually asked to take a picture of our group to put in their marketing programme to prove that they have white fans. Despite that awkward experience, I really enjoyed how welcoming the crowd was and becoming part of the Chiefs fan base.

The game was part of a series between the Chiefs and Ajax Cape Town and ended in a tie 0-0. Little did I know I would be seeing the final game of the series in Cape Town a week later…

On Saturday we decided to attend the football match at Cape Town Stadium in celebration of my friend Sally’s 20th birthday. But we didn’t realize that there are no ticket offices at the stadium. We were standing outside the beautiful stadium, surrounded by the noises of the vuvuzelas and crowd inside… and had no way of getting in! We were determined to get in. After trying to buy off extra tickets from fellow attendees, a security guard called us off to the side. He offered to let all 7 of us into the game for R200 (corruption at its finest). Obviously we took up the sweet deal and ran inside the gate before he changed his mind. There were easily twice as many fans inside Cape Town Stadium than Soccer City, which led to an even crazier South African football experience. Somehow the game ended in a tie yet again, this time 2-2, but the Chiefs managed to win the series overall by this point. The celebrations outside the stadium afterwards were ridiculous! We had to walk all the way to Long Street just to get out of the traffic.

I couldn’t help but think of my host brother Tristan during the games. If you remember from my earlier post about Ocean View, he told me that sports in South Africa are “racist.” He wondered how it was possible that all of the soccer players were black, and not like him (coloured) or like me (white). He was right. All of the players on the soccer field were black, except one. All of the rugby players had been white, except one. How is it possible? Do these teams really represent the “Rainbow Nation”? The deeper I delve into understanding racial issues in South Africa, the more confused and troubled I become.

Do you think our sports teams in America are divided racially too? Do our Olympic teams really represent the diversity of our country? I’m curious to know what everyone thinks.

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One thought on “Soccer vs. Rugby: An Analysis of South African Sports

  1. I don’t believe US professional sports teams are intentionally composed by race but, rather, reflect the demographics of the areas where athletes grow and polish their skills. Example: the NBA is predominantly black – basketball is largely a city game and blacks tend to be concentrated in cities. In the early years of the NBA, there were many Jews, Irish, Italians, because those were the ethnic groups then living in cities. Same logic holds for baseball, where there are relatively few blacks ( baseball being a more suburban and rural game, plus Caribbean islands). So, too, with football, dominated by blacks from the South. And tennis; rich whites. Etc., etc.

    Finally, I don’t think our Olympic teams are representive of nationwide ethnic composition, but the DO reflect the races of athletes who dominate in each sport …
    an extension of my logic above.

    These are just generalizations, and personal ones. But I think they can be defended.

    Love, Grampa

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