The year 2008 has been a roller-coaster ride for South African sport — from the success of Trevor Immelman upstaging Tiger Woods at the US Masters to Bafana Bafana’s failure to qualify for the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations.
When Trevor Immelman beat Tiger Woods by three strokes in April to win the US Masters, most of us were excited and believed that it was a sign of good things to come in the year.
Immelman’s victory at Augusta National in Georgia was arguably the major sporting achievement of the year. He became the first South African to wear the famous green jacket since Gary Player in 1978. Player won it in 1961, 1974 and 1978.
The future of South African golf generally looks bright, with tournaments such as the Nedbank Golf Challenge, the Johannesburg Open and the SA Open continuing to compete with the best in the world in terms of purse and attracting quality fields.
The Proteas achieved what seemed to be mission impossible when they beat England at Edgbaston to ensure a first Test series victory in England since 1965. The emergence of fast bowler Dale Steyn has had a huge impact on the team’s performance. In March he completed his haul of 100 Test wickets quicker than any other South African, and is the 2008 International Cricket Council Test cricketer of the year.
The Springboks’ success on the field, although widely celebrated, took a back seat to the off-field events. The year began with the appointment of Peter de Villiers as head coach, the first non-white to hold the post.
The highlight of De Villiers’s first year in charge was the victory over the All Blacks in New Zealand at Carisbrooke Stadium in Dunedin, known as the ”House of Pain”. A late try by Ricky Januarie ensured the Boks ended a 10-year wait for success in the backyard of the most celebrated rugby nation.
Controversy then rocked the sport as Parliament’s sports portfolio committee chairperson Butana Komphela led calls for the Springbok emblem to be abolished, while flanker Luke Watson told a public gathering he felt like vomiting on the Bok jersey. Watson was hauled before the South African Rugby Union disciplinary committee for his subsequent allegations, only to escape sanction as the union dropped the charges against him on a technical defect.
In a compromise over the Bok emblem, the union resolved to move the Springbok emblem to the right-hand side of the team jersey to accommodate the King Protea emblem — in line with other sporting federations — a decision that seemed to put the issue to rest.
The record 42-6 triumph over England in November at Twickenham was the right tonic needed to bring the curtain down on a mixed year.
Congratulations are also in order for the Springbok Sevens team. They recorded back-to-back International Rugby Board Sevens World Series victories in Dubai and George.
The Beijing Olympics will be remembered as the lowest point of the year in South African sport. With more than 130 athletes at the Games, Team South Africa managed to bring home only one medal — Khotso Mokoena’s silver medal in the long jump.
Maybe it was a little hopeful to expect more from the athletes after poor preparations for the Games. Instead of channelling their energy to putting together a strong Olympic team, former Sascoc president Moss Mashishi, athletics boss Leonard Chuene and Komphela were involved in a public spat over issues of transformation from November 2007 right through to the eve of the Games.
Just as the nation was getting over the heartache of the Beijing Olympics debacle, Bafana Bafana broke many hearts when they failed to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations, to be held in Angola in 2010.
Bafana Bafana lost 1-0 against the troubled Nigerian team in September in a crucial match that shattered South Africa’s hopes of joining the continent’s best football-playing nations in Luanda. The disappointment was unexpected as the 1996 Africa champions were pitted against weaker sides such as Sierra Leone and Equatorial Guinea in their group.
It is not surprising that the failure has been widely viewed as a disgrace for a country that will host the 2010 Fifa World Cup finals. Shockingly, the South African Football Association’s chief executive, Raymond Hack, was unapologetic in the face of a national outcry. He referred to Bafana Bafana critics as ”idiots who do not know what development is”.
The national team is far from the finished product that can take on the world’s best. But to their credit they have bounced back in recent weeks, inspiring some confidence in their performance ahead of next year’s Confederations Cup with a 3-2 victory over Cameroon in the Nelson Mandela Challenge.
Confederations Cup draw
The successful hosting of the 2009 Confederations Cup draw in Sandton allayed fears over the country’s preparations for the biggest sporting event in two years’ time.
The colourful ceremony was as spectacular as it was successful. There was some respite too for Bafana Bafana, who were again handed a relatively easy draw against Iraq in their first match. Besides Iraq, coach Joel Santana and his charges are in the same group as Spain and New Zealand.
The successful draw buried the talk of a ”Plan B” to host the World Cup by sceptics who hoped South Africa would not meet Fifa’s deadline.
The local organising committee has assured the nation that all stadiums will be ready for the Confederations Cup. Tickets for this tournament, a dress rehearsal for the World Cup, are selling fast and could be sold out early in the New Year.
The South African Paralympics team compensated for the Olympic disappointment and restored our national pride. They finished sixth in the final medals standings with 21 gold, three silver and six bronze medals.
The star of the games was swimmer Natalie Du Toit, who bagged five gold medals from five events and was named the female winner of the Whang Youn Dai Achievement Award for the 2008 games.