Just like the people of many other countries, South Africans are crazy about sports. While almost every sport is played to some degree here, the main focus of the sport watching public falls into three arenas rugby, cricket and soccer. These three games spark debate, argument, and even the odd drunken scuffle around the whole country. As any country that is fanatical about their sports, South Africa has tried hard to be the best there is in all three fields.
Lets start with rugby. This contact sport was, for many years, the province of the white population. That was until 1994 (if memory serves) when a very memorable Rugby World Cup held in South Africa saw the entire nation glued to the TV to watch a super final in which our Springbok team emerged victorious. I think they played against France, but, once again, my memory is a bit iffy around the subject. The main reason for this sports related amnesia is simple. I dont really like sports, but I digress.
Rugby is a game played by a bunch of very large men on a field. Each team is made up of big guys, bigger guys and even bigger guys. These men are given a strangely shaped ball almost exactly like the ball used in American Football and are then told to run (with this ball in hand) towards a demarcated line defended by the other team. They have to slam the ball into the ground on the other side of the line, as close to a set of uprights as they can. The other team will, of course, be trying to prevent this, by any means necessary. Yes, there are concepts such as unfair and dirty play in rugby, but these are more of a formality than a rule. Should the team get the ball over the line, the smallest guy on the team gets to kick the ball, aiming for the upright. If he gets it through (and over the crossbar, of course) the team gets even more points. Should there be a scuffle over the ball, the teams enter into a scrum they form a sort of huddle on the field, pushing against each other and vying for the ball, which is put into the scrum by whichever team looked most offended at the time of the referee blowing his whistle. Liberal punch-trading and insult slinging is to be expected within a scrum, and the opposing team may even be attacked in a similar way. There are also line-outs, for when the ball leaves play. The two teams line up, and one team throws the ball over their heads. Its a matter of who can jump highest to get possession of the ball.
Rugby may, at first glance, seem a lot like American Football. There are two major differences, though. The first is the fact that no pads are worn by rugby players. Whether this is a matter of bravado, insanity or stupidity, I dont know. The second difference is that rugby, unlike American Football, doesnt stop every five seconds for the teams to line up neatly. It is a fast paced and rough game.
As I mentioned, South Africa were once world champions of this rather Neanderthal sport. But mismanagement and apparent corruption soon put an end to that, and the countrys rugby team is now struggling to get back into form. They did well against the Welsh and Irish recently, but it was hardly championship material.
On to cricket. This is a game played on an oval field of varying size (really) with a big strip of dirt in the middle. One team fields, while the other bats. Its a little like baseball, but without the spitting and arrogance. The batting team makes use of the dirt strip. Two batsmen take the field at a time, one on either side of the strip. The bowler bowls the hard ball at one batsman, trying to hit three little poles behind the batsman. This results in the batsman leaving the field, and the next one coming in. The batsman, in turn, tries to hit the ball away from the poles. If it is caught by one of the fielders, he is also sent off the field. Once the all is struck, the two batsmen run past each other along the strip as many times as possible. Each trip gets them one run but if the little poles are knocked over when a batsman is away from them, he is, once again, called out. Hitting the ball to the edge of the oval counts as four runs; if it doesnt touch the ground on the way, it counts as six runs.
Cricket has more rules and regulations than some countries. There are rules for bowling wide, rules for catching the ball, rules for running the pitch, rules for breaking wind, and so on. Traditionally, the game would take place over five days. It had a sort of bowl a ball, have a cup of tea, bowl a ball, have a cup of tea formula to it. However, One Day games are also played, with a limited time for each team to bat. This is the format which the Cricket World Cup takes. South Africa has hosted such an event but have never been world champions due to the fact that the team seems to collapse under pressure of a final. The best hope we ever had of wining cricket ended with the sacking of Hansie Cronje, the team captain, who was implicated in a wide reaching match fixing scandal. He later tied in a tragic plane crash. Once again, corruption put paid to South African sports fans hopes and dreams.
The third game, soccer, was largely supported by the black population until a while ago. I am not going to explain it, because if you dont understand soccer, you know less about sports than I do.
The national soccer team, nicknamed Bafana Bafana (literally the men, the men, or the boys, the boys depending on which black language you speak) has had moments of brilliance. Sadly, these are few and far between, and they have normally been eliminated early from any given World Cup event. However, the home ground advantage should come into play in 2010, when South Africa hosts the Soccer World Cup. And yes, surprise surprise, the South African soccer scene has recently been rocked by match fixing scandals. A lot of people are concerned that this will have a negative impact on the World Cup hosting, but this is doubtful the match fixing was restricted to club level, and had no real international repercussions. The big problem lies, in truth, with the top local players. These people have the patriotic tendencies of dead newt. They would far rather play overseas (where they get paid better) than for the national team.
I propose a fourth major sporting event to be held in South Africa. It would be one that we would definitely be world champions in just picture it: the 2008 Corruption World Cup. It would be awesome watching our best corrupt sports officials performing events like the 200 Meter Tax Dodge and the Match Fix Relay Marathon. Now that would be a sporting even that I could sink my teeth into!