Football without fans is nothing. It’s an overused cliché — and has been wielded nefariously to justify countless acts of fan abuse — but at its essence remains as true today as it ever did. It applies to all other sports too, all of which will not go far without supporters willing to make a substantial investment of time and, often, money.
Springbok captain Siya Kolisi made sure this sentiment echoed across the world when he declared that winning the World Cup was a victory for all South Africans — an emotional rapture that has looped on our TV screens since.
Speaking the words is easy; what he and the rest of the squad have gone on to do is prove that, as professional athletes, they’re willing to live by them.
It’s hard to fault the effort of rugby authorities to bring the Webb Ellis Cup to as much of the country as possible. Even provinces that missed out on the big green bus have been promised smaller trophy tours in the near future.
It may sound like the obvious thing to do but with South African sporting bodies nothing should be taken for granted. If the Proteas had inexplicably won the World Cup in July, would we still feel the avowed glow of unity so keenly two weeks after the fact? Judging by the opaque front put up by cricketing authorities that’s hard to conceive (“South African Cricket seems stumped for solutions”).
Too often stars and their handlers are all too happy to sit high in their ivory towers and plead ignorance to what’s happening below. In the context of national sport, this should be seen as nothing less than an urgent problem.
Rugby itself has divided opinion like little else over the past 25 years, but you ask a kid today if they want to play for the Springboks or Proteas and it won’t even be a question. That’s the power of returning sport to the people. Administrators, from club to national level, would do well to take the example set this month as a reminder that that is their primary mandate.