Looking at the current state of South African sport I sometimes wonder where we’ve gone wrong – is it really as bad as we think?
South Africa is a passionate nation, where freedom of expression, speech and opinion is encouraged and pursued, as rightly it should be. After all, no country has emerged from a history of oppression in all walks of life to one which promotes equality and freedom in the same way ours has.
Sure, we have our problems. Which country doesn’t? I don’t want to get into politics or socio-political issues, but it must be mentioned because it is important to remember how far we have come, and not always focus on how far we have to go.
SA sport has played a big part in this political transition and much has been made throughout our democratic history of the importance of events such as the 1995 Rugby World Cup triumph and the hosting of the 2010 Soccer World Cup.
These moments are so important because they represent times in our recent past where differences were set aside as South Africans united behind one cause. However, the trend of fans turning into critics has often divided supporters, instead of uniting us under one flag.
Growing up, every boy dreams of playing for the Springboks, Proteas or Bafana Bafana. Not everyone gets to live out that childhood dream because professional sport is arguably the most competitive industry in the world. Reaching the professional level of any sport doesn’t happen to a person by chance or favour.
Professional athletes are completely reliant on themselves. Sure, they have God-given talent, but the hours sacrificed to hard work is somewhat lost in the perceived glamour of being a pro athlete.
Fans are quick to point out that the job comes with a duty to perform, but they’re slow to appreciate that, as with any job, workers are going to have days when they make mistakes. And it’s a fact that the most conducive work environment is one in which employees feel supported by those around them. Confidence breeds success.
One of my favourite current rugby players is Jan Serfontein. He burst onto the scene at the 2012 Junior World Championship as a player of vast potential.
As we do in this country, we immediately hailed him as the next big thing. The guy was 20.
Serfontein had a few good seasons before a run of injuries and poor form saw him suddenly being branded a bust. When he finally got back to full health, he looked like a player short of confidence and game time. But nobody stood back and gave him a chance to rebuild.
The June Test series against France was an amazing few games for Serfontein and, as his confidence grew, so did the level of his performances.
Thinking about Serfontein’s ride on the rollercoaster of public opinion, and witnessing the trough that SA sports is going through now, I wonder what I can do to turn things around.
I can’t pick the sides or change the way they play. I can’t put structures in place that I believe will breed success. But what I believe we, as fans, can do is remove the blinders that affect how we perceive our sporting heroes and stop judging them according to unrealistic standards.
Many of the people representing our various sporting sides are men or women between the ages of 19 and 35. They are not robots, they are human beings. They will make mistakes. They will have off-days. Who are we to judge them for that?
To burden them with unrealistic expectations from the sidelines only inhibits them. Many of us in our jobs have to answer to one or two people, yet we expect these young athletes to be accountable to millions.
We would all do well to recall the value that professional athletes have, historically, added to this young democracy’s sporting highlights. Remember the joy that the 1995 Rugby World Cup and the 2010 World Cup brought you, your family, your friends and your country.
Let’s put aside our cynicism and play our part in helping to make sure we experience that national pride again.
Law grad Nico Loizides spends more time in court than on the field these days, but the avid sports fan once played first team rugby for Bishops and UCT. Follow him on Twitter: @nicoloizides_13
FRESH TAKE is an initiative to identify, feature and develop talented rugby writers who are not yet part of the mainstream media.
If that sounds like you, send us a sample of a story you’d like to write to email@example.com