The Springbok victory at the World Cup has divided opinion. Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya argues that instead of joining in this unnecessary debate, Christians can take lessons from the team on how they could live their own faith.
The increasing importance of sport in society can be seen in how phrases historically not associated with it, now seem to fit in so seamlessly.
It is no longer odd to hear someone say “sport (not diplomacy) is the continuation of war by other means” or, deliberately misquoting Marx, by saying “sport (not religion) is the opiate of the masses”.
There is a strong case for this. Nations see their performance in sport as saying something about their place in the world. National pride, to the point of jingoism, is often on display, especially when national teams compete in sport.
Perhaps it should not be surprising that in South Africa, sport can easily be a nation-uniting or dividing phenomenon, as we have seen with the Springboks’ triumph at the recent Rugby World Cup. Social media, as usual, has been ablaze with politicians, celebrities and ordinary folk slamming one another for supporting, or not supporting, the team.
At the core of the criticism is that supporting rugby perpetuates the dominance of white male influence over South African life. It was not helpful that one of the team members, lock Eben Etzebeth, was alleged to have racially and physically abused revellers in a pub brawl in the Western Cape.
Group dynamics fuelled further controversy when video footage of a group hug excluding black player Makazole Mapimpi emerged leading to further cries of racism. It took Mapimpi to explain that this was not racism but a group ritual for the specific players on the bench, collectively known as the “Bomb Squad”.
Those who support the Boks argue that they are a representation of what we could be as a nation, and this group of young men should not be made to carry the weight of the past they, as a group, can do nothing about.
For a people of faith, sport can offer a different parable. The Bok story can be used to see how all of us can attempt to live a life faithful to the path we have chosen.
One of the recurrent themes in the Boks’ story is that it is not how you start out in life but how you finish that matters. As a team, and as individuals, the Boks’ story is a testament of how an alternative outcome is possible for those who have been ruled out as non-starters.
Take the twin facts that the Boks lost their first match but still emerged as champions. So much of the Christian message is that those on the margins have a future in the Kingdom of God, regardless of which side of the street they were born.
Bok captain Siya Kolisi’s story has elements of this Christian narrative. He was born to a teenage mother. Her situation forced her to leave the child at his father’s house’s, who himself left the little boy to be raised by his grandmother.
Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me
It was not long before Kolisi’s talents caught the eye of those who could do something about it. He was invited for trials at the prestigious Grey College, a school highly regarded for its rugby pedigree in South Africa.
It may very well be that those who arranged for Kolisi to go to Grey did not have the Scriptures in mind, but they certainly qualified to have it said to them that “whatever you did for the least of these, you did it for me”. (Matt 25: 40)
Kolisi describes how he showed up for trials wearing the only shorts he had — shiny boxer shorts. He did not focus on how terrible life had been for him, but rather lived the Parable of the Talents. He did not count how much he had relative to others but, instead, invested wholeheartedly in what he had been given… and look at him now…
He says there were boys who he feels were more talented than him but were not selected. Maybe Kolisi is just being humble of heart, as Christ encouraged his disciples to be (Matt 11:29). Either way, many are called, but few are chosen…
What good could ever come from a place like that
Mapimpi also has a story that can serve as an inspiration and example of triumph over adversity to us. He was the first player to score a try at the Rugby World Cup final, thereby rewriting his own life’s narrative.
He did not come through the traditional rugby schools, but emerged from the less seriously regarded club system in Mdantsane, East London. One could almost repeat the question Phillip posed to his brother Nathaniel: “what good could come from [Tsholomnqa, about 40km from East London]?
Those who have known the 25-year old, will now not only remember Mapimpi as that young man who was introduced to too many personal tragedies at a young age. he lost his mother in a car accident, his sister died of a brain disease and his brother died. He made it through all those challenges and will be forever be recorded in history as the man who began the South African destruction of the English team.
The Boks went to the tournament with many detractors and millions of coaches. They succeeded in Japan not because they had the perfect team and ideal conditions, but because they remained focused on their purpose.
In sport, as in life in general, it is not about the good you know you ought to do, it is about doing it when the time calls for it. Kolisi and his team did their very best, and today they are in rugby heaven.Republish