Published in South Africa by: Wits University Press 1 Jan Smuts Avenue Johannesburg 2001 http://witspress.wits.ac.za

Selection and Introduction: Copyright © Christopher Thurman 2010 Chapters: Copyright © Individual Authors 2010 First published 2010

ISBN 978-1-86814-512-6 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the written permission of the publisher, except in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright Act, Act 98 of 1978. The editor and authors would like to thank Absa for supporting the writing of this book. The views published in Sport versus Art are, however, those of the individual writers and Absa does not assume any responsibility for the content published in this book, nor does it accept liability for any inconvenience or damages caused by the publication.

Project managed by Monica Seeber Cover design and layout by Hothouse South Africa Printed and bound by Ultra Litho (Pty) Ltd.

For Jude Comley and Vanilla Nurse They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn ...

This book would not have been possible without the enthusiasm, eloquence and intellectual engagement of its various contributors; I am sincerely indebted to them. I am especially grateful to Veronica Klipp and Julie Miller, who endorsed the idea behind the book before a word had been written, and whose encouragement throughout has been greatly appreciated. Monica Seeber offered invaluable advice on the manuscript at various stages and saw the project through to its completion with aplomb (she is also a charming tea-time companion). It has been a pleasure to work with Desiree Pooe and her colleagues at Absa, whose financial contribution to and promotion of the book has been infused with a respect for the project’s intellectual integrity and autonomy. Finally, I offer humble thanks to my parents and sisters, who nurtured my sporting and artistic inclinations; to my wife, Ciska, who continually supports my indulgence in both; and to all those friends and colleagues who have proved to me over the years that these interests need not be mutually exclusive. Chris Thurman March 2010

Note: Quotations that are not attributed to a particular author or publication have been taken from interviews conducted by the contributors in person or via correspondence. As for published work, the list of references at the end of the book has been provided in lieu of footnotes or in-text citations. Page numbers have not been given for quotations from books, but these can be obtained from the publisher on request.


Chris Thurman



Passing Passions, Enduring Love
Patrick Cairns


Why Sport Matters
Dan Nicholl


The Fine Line between Fanaticism and Obsession
Mninawa Ntloko


MEDIA, MONEY AND POLITICS Sing When You’re Winning:
Representations of Sport and Culture in the Media
Simon van Schalkwyk


Cricket, Bollywood and Business:
Indian Art and Sport in South Africa
Firdose Moonda


From Non-racial Sport to the FIFA World Cup:
A Tale of Politics, Big Business and Hope Betrayed
Christopher Merrett


The ‘Eighth Muse’:
Sport and Film, Sport on Film
Jyoti Mistry


Where are the Champions?
Football, Funding and South Africa-in-Africa
Lucky Sindane


The City of Theatre and Spectacle
Ashwin Desai


Artless Sport and Sportless Art:
Democracy’s Dilemmas of Representation
Gavin Sourgen


ART/SPORT? The Bellowing Bull and the Thing That is Not Round:
Jazz and the Hidden History of Black Rugby
Gwen Ansell


Sporty Nerds and Arty Jocks:
How South Africans see Themselves
Stuart Theobald


“Playing to Win is not Really Playing”:
Artists’ Sporting Interventions
Anthea Buys


Ballet is a Sport: Part One
Edward Griffiths


Ballet is a Sport: Part Two
Fiona Budd, Iain Macdonald and Samantha Saevitzon


‘Us’ and ‘Them’:
Dance, Sport, Gender and Politics
Adrienne Sichel


The Art of Sport
Angus Powers


SPORT, ART AND ME: MEMORY, NOSTALGIA, REGRET Cricket, Loss and Life (and Song) Must Go On
Toast Coetzer


No Normal Art ...?
Mike van Graan


Pining for a Return to a Golden Era
Victor Dlamini


Cricket, Gender and Intimations of Mortality
Helen Moffet


Sponsor’s Foreword

We at Absa realise the integral and important role that art and sport play in any society. They can bring people together and encourage an unspoken patriotism and ‘togetherness’ that might not ordinarily exist in a diverse society such as ours. Each of us is involved in some way in one or both arenas – either by participating or as a spectator – and this translates into a form of support that often transcends time, age and race. Likewise, these arenas have equally rich and colourful histories in South Africa that have been passed on from generation to generation. Two outstanding examples are the much talked-about Absa Currie Cup rugby competition and the Absa L’Atelier art awards, both of which are celebrating their 25-year anniversary in 2010. This is definitely no mean feat. The Absa Group’s commitment to and sponsorship contribution towards various artistic and sporting initiatives has grown significantly over the last decade. In recent months, the Group has taken on a more integrated approach, which has resulted in communities across the country benefiting – either directly or indirectly – economically and otherwise from our sponsorships. As bankers, we are always on the lookout for investments that yield long-term, sustainable results. One example is our sponsorship of Bafana Bafana, the national soccer team; another example is the Absa KKNK (Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees). The KKNK continues to spearhead the crucial role of the arts industry in the celebration and appreciation of a developing South African culture. Our long-term commitment to the Festival not only confirms our investment in the growth of arts and culture, but also demonstrates our support, as a


responsible corporate citizen, for the economic well-being of the region. According to recent research, the total economic impact of the Absa KKNK in 2009 was estimated at R112 million. Absa’s overall investment in both sport and the arts makes a remarkable difference in the lives of South Africans. We are proud to be associated with such initiatives and view our role as more than just involvement in the preservation of culture – it is a contribution to the overall growth and evolution of individual communities and of our society more broadly. In future initiatives, Absa will endeavour to forge sound partnerships that will have a positive impact on our country! Happy Ntshingila Absa Group Executive, Marketing and Communication


Poor Relations?
Chris Thurman

In a sense, the appearance of this book immediately prior to the 2010 FIFA Football World Cup is unfortunate. To some it may smack of ‘2010 opportunism’, while to others it may simply form part of the broad backdrop that the World Cup has provided for the lives of millions of South Africans in recent years – and will in all likelihood continue to provide for some time. As I hope this introductory essay will indicate, the conflict (and potential concord) between sport and the arts has long been a preoccupation of mine. Yet it is telling that this preoccupation – evidently one shared by the contributors to Sport versus Art and, I am confident, by many of its readers – should culminate in publication just before the much-anticipated kick off. As a watershed event, the Cup’s advent (along with the political and economic changes that have occurred in South Africa since 2008) has served to sharpen and foreground debates about various national issues as the international gaze has intensified its focus on this country. While not as critical as those of health, housing, crime, unemployment or education, one such issue is the series of lost opportunities to establish some form of symbiosis between sport and the arts – the most recent of which is the disappearance of R150 million that was pledged by the



Department of Arts and Culture in 2009 for arts ventures related to the World Cup. At the time of writing, Minister Lulu Xingwana, having dissolved a task team previously established to assess funding proposals, has yet to confirm whether or not institutions such as the Market Theatre and the National Arts Festival will receive the monies promised to them, while an internal forensic audit is under way, suggesting government financial mismanagement or, worse, corruption. South Africa’s arts practitioners can ill afford such squandering. Unfortunately, as J. Brookes Spector has emphasised, “This 2010 mess is simply a microcosm of the larger picture. There is little or no longterm [government] commitment to artistic excellence in South Africa.” In an eloquent but gloomy account of the parlous state of arts funding in this country, Spector points to the slashing of the National Arts Council’s budget – he calculates that it now amounts to about 30 cents per citizen! – and the limited disbursement of funds for arts projects by the Lottery Distribution Trust (as a result of “bureaucratic complexities”, the Trust has been giving out “less than a third of its available funds”). One of the titles originally considered for this book was Poor Relations – a phrase that I have had in mind, when thinking about the relationship between sport and the arts, since an interview with Janice Honeyman in 2007. Honeyman, a well-known South African director and theatre personality, reminded me of “the truism that cultural activity in this country has always been a poor relation to sport”. She was referring not only to the broader public interest in sport as a form of entertainment and the perceived neglect of artistic, aesthetic and intellectual pursuits, but also to the elevated financial status enjoyed by sport – in terms of state support, corporate sponsorship capital and ticket revenues – compared to its literally poor cousin. Later that year, at a press function in Grahamstown at the National Arts Festival, a senior Festival board member echoed Honeyman’s sentiments, emphasising the paucity of big-name arts sponsors: “I challenge our large

Poor Relations?


companies to spend more on the arts. How much, for instance, do our cellphone giants and banks spend on sport? We are asking, what about art? If our rugby and cricket and soccer leagues can be worth billions of rands, why can’t the arts industry be the same?” Towards the end of 2009, another highly respected figure in South African theatre, James Ngcobo, reinforced these anxieties: “What worries me is that, while the government is … giving money to theatre companies, things are difficult for individuals who don’t have the backing of a theatre. One just feels that we need to get the corporate world to understand theatre, to have the CFOs and CEOs of companies coming to watch our shows.” Of course, there are plenty of business executives who do watch theatre, invest in fine art or patronise musicians. Studies commissioned by Business and Arts South Africa (BASA) have confirmed that corporate arts funding has grown substantially over the past ten years. As BASA chief Michelle Constant has complained, however, limited media coverage of sponsored arts projects – compared to media coverage of sponsored sports events – is a deterrent to potential new arts sponsors or to those companies that might otherwise wish to grow their arts sponsorship portfolios. Print and online news editors, as well as radio and TV producers, may have something to answer for on this score. After all, the dictum that ‘no news is good news’ is applied to arts journalism as well. Consider the furore that erupted when it was reported (six months after the fact) that Minister Xingwana had walked out of an exhibition containing photographs by Zanele Muholi that she deemed “immoral” and “offensive” – an exhibition that was sponsored by her Department and that she was due to open officially. It is right that such ministerial follies are made public (not least because Xingwana’s comments bring her competence as an arts industry leader into question and, more menacingly, invoke the shadow of state censorship of the arts), but if the media coverage her bungling received were balanced by accounts of positive



state support for the arts, this would also be to the benefit of artists. (Anecdotally, I may mention here that British-South African producer and publisher Eric Abraham, who has invested millions of rands into the new Fugard Theatre in Cape Town’s District Six, confided to me his bemusement at the fact that the attendance of various political VIPs at the opening of the theatre was largely ignored by the media.) Following his comment about CEOs as theatre patrons, Ngcobo went on to suggest that arts funding is as important as sports funding because “it’s a lovely thing when a human being can watch a football match between Chiefs and Pirates, can watch cricket or rugby, but can also go to a play and to the ballet – someone who can enjoy diversity in life.” Sport and the arts may compete for sponsors and for public interest, but do they necessarily stand in opposition to one another? Why do they seem to have such a poor relationship? Is what happens on the sports field fundamentally different to what happens on the stage or in the studio, or have we drawn a false dichotomy between the two? What do we make of arts practitioners, academics or intellectuals who are passionate about sport? Or sports buffs who take a keen interest in literature, music, theatre, dance and the visual arts? * As a schoolboy, I did not find it difficult to integrate these interests. My mother patiently shuttled me from soccer practices to music lessons, or packed extra sandwiches for snacks between afternoon cricket matches and evening play rehearsals. This was all made easier, no doubt, by the fact that the headmaster at my high school (who also happened to be my father) believed in the classical credo mens sana in corpore sano – a healthy mind in a healthy body – to the extent that he made the First XV rugby team join the chorus in whatever musical was being staged as the school’s major production each year.

Poor Relations?


Looking back, however, I can discern the traces of conflict even in this comparatively open-minded school environment. Inevitably, we absorbed some of the assumptions that were widely held outside the school gates; assumptions about, for instance, a national hierarchy of sports. As sports scientist Ross Tucker has noted, the dominance of soccer, rugby and cricket in South Africa means that “smaller sports – sometimes patronisingly called ‘Cinderella sports’ – are forced to make do with few resources. For them, there is often no Cinderella story, only ‘poverty’ and survival.” (This would imply that, in financial terms at least, the minor sports relate to the major sports in the same way as the arts do.) Tucker’s point is an economic one, but there are underlying ideological causes for the promotion of some sports and the debasement of others, as there are for the priority sport is given over the arts. I am ashamed to recall that my rugby teammates and I merrily referred to hockey as ‘mof-stok’. Worse, as a pre-teen primary school kid whose ‘nerdy’ interests were forgiven by his sports-mad friends because he could also throw or kick a ball, I was one of those who sniggered at a boy who attended ballet lessons after school instead of joining the on-field fracas. These were fairly minor manifestations of a phenomenon that has had, and continues to have, far more serious repercussions in South African society – the dubious patriarchal alliance of sport and masculinity. There is a brand of chauvinism, common to both township sports clubs and elite private schools, that measures virility according to sporting ability. It is arguably part of a broader male pathology in our country that results in nauseatingly high rates of violence against women – the same pathology, it could be said, that aggravates the strain of homophobia betraying a conservative national consensus and running counter to the tenets of our liberal constitution. Some of the contributors to this book, Helen Moffett and Adrienne Sichel in particular, address questions of gender as they pertain to sport (and to the arts). Related issues, which have been more fully explored elsewhere, are the sexual objectification



of many female athletes across the world and, conversely, the stigmatisation of those who don’t fit into neat gender categories, as was demonstrated throughout the Caster Semenya saga. Many readers will remember Springbok rugby coach Peter de Villiers’s widely reported press conference blunder of 2009: after numerous incidents of foul play in that year’s British Lions series, he facetiously compared rugby and dancing as “contact sports”. He had forgotten, I’m sure, that not too long ago the Golden Lions Rugby Union invited dancer-choreographer Gladys Agulhas to run training workshops with rugby referees, or that former international rugby players and other athletes regularly appear as contestants on the TV show Strictly Come Dancing. Members of the South African Ballet Theatre (SABT) responded to Div’s disparaging remarks about ballet dancers and tutus by reiterating a previous challenge to the national rugby team’s players to compete in a fitness test with SABT’s male principal dancers. The Springboks declined the invitation. (It should perhaps be mentioned that former Bok hooker James Dalton, known as a ruffian both on and off the rugby field, did take up the challenge – just as he was game enough to participate in a season of Strictly Come Dancing.) A number of comments from readers of online articles reporting on the challenge betray the widespread idiocy that a macho sporting culture promotes: “Let the ballet dancers do a practice game against the Bokke ... Can you imagine Bakkies taking out ballet dancers at the ruck or the Beast upfront in the scrum against one of these guys?”; “Good one Bokke, let the poofters do ballet and you play rugby!”; “I think the ballet dancers would love to play a game of rugby ... men in tights grabbing each other around the neck or picking them up while firmly placing their hands on their **** could probably be referred to as a contact sport ... maybe the dancers can’t wait to get hold of some good S.A. Prime Cuts”; “Arrogante klomp poofters. Die Bokke moet gaan ballet doen vir een hele dag en laat die dansertjies dan ’n 40 minute

Poor Relations?


koppestamp sessie deurwerk. Dan sien ons wie bly staande”; “Put those poofters on the field and smash them! They should go and jump on a different bandwagon, one that’s filled with pink tutus, tights and heaven knows what else their crowd is into.” And so on. Fortunately, there are contributions in the present volume that replace such vitriol with more nuanced approaches to the connections between ballet and rugby: from sportswriter and administrator Edward Griffiths, and from members of the SABT itself (Fiona Budd, Iain MacDonald and Samantha Saevitzon). Renowned dance critic Adrienne Sichel also uses De Villiers’s comments as a starting point for her account but, in contrast to the preceding pieces, she addresses the ‘us’ and ‘them’ divisions that exist in South Africa between proponents of different dance forms, as much as between dancers and sportspeople. Some would consider the association of dancing with femininity as largely a ‘white’ or ‘Western’ prejudice. Zulu traditional martial dances, and gumboot dances (to choose two prominent examples, although for foreign visitors these have become the stuff of touristic cliché), are proof that dance in this country has traditionally been a means to express masculine energy and physical strength. One might say, then, that it is only the European dance form of ballet that invokes such prejudice. But this conclusion is not satisfactory either. As the ballet dancers who contribute to this book justifiably claim, ballet need not be categorised as ‘foreign’ or ‘elite’. Moreover, as leading black male contemporary dancers such as Sello Pesa, Gregory Maqoma or Thabo Rapoo can attest, the stigma attached to male dancers crosses divisions of race and culture. It ought to be self-evident in post-apartheid South Africa that the terms ‘African’ and ‘European’, ‘black’ and ‘white’, cannot be used as simplistic binaries but relate to one another in complex ways. Yet those who wish to read this book through a racial lens may discern, in the various contributions, an example-in-microcosm of what a colleague has dubbed the ‘gulf’ between black and white that still seems to apply



to the support of different sporting codes in South Africa. Despite a slow process of integration, can we deny that there remains a chasm between sports fans of different races? It is what my colleague calls “the Caster Semenya syndrome”, according to which it is understood that – as some were quick to point out when the troubled young athlete returned home with her 800m gold medal and a suitcase full of controversy from the IAAF World Championships in Berlin – white people go to the airport to greet ‘their’ sportspeople (rugby and cricket teams) and black people go to the airport to greet ‘their’ sportspeople (soccer and athletics teams). A similar though less marked gap is perceived to exist in the arts, notes my colleague, according to which whites read crime novels, blacks read poetry; whites like rock, blacks like gospel. It remains a moot point as to whether such ‘cultural chauvinism’ causes sporting codes and artistic disciplines to undermine the project of national reconciliation as much as they contribute towards it. Either way, one thing is certain: we have yet to attain a sophisticated understanding of the interplay between sport and the arts. * If some sections of the sports-fanatic public utterly misconstrue the performing arts, it must also be said that artists, writers and intellectuals can unfairly categorise sporting endeavour – and sportspeople – as inherently ‘unintelligent’, narrow-minded or even fundamentally reactionary. In this sense, sport is demeaned as an intellectually or aesthetically ‘poor’ relation of the arts (I am indebted to Gavin Sourgen, also a contributor to this volume, for referring me to West Indian writer C.L.R. James’s declaration in defence of his favourite sport: “Cricket is an art, not a bastard or a poor relation, but a full member of the community”). As Sourgen and Stuart Theobald both point out in their pieces, the separation of sport and art on intellectual or aesthetic grounds is

Poor Relations?


echoed in artificial sub-divisions between ‘high art’ and ‘low art’, or ‘elite’ art and ‘popular’ art, and Jyoti Mistry notes that art forms such as film are constantly forced into one or the other of these categories. Then there are those artists and intellectuals who have no real grudge against what happens on the field, but do – and often rightly so – take issue with the way in which sporting events bring to the fore, or are manifestations of, wider socio-political problems. Consider, for instance, J.M. Coetzee’s seminal essay on the 1995 Rugby World Cup, which makes many astute observations about what he calls “a monthlong orgy of chauvinism and mime-show of war among nations”. The article comments not so much on the tournament itself as on the way in which the opening and closing ceremonies were obvious products of “an industry dedicated to the manufacture and recycling of the exotic, to the construction of varieties of rainbowness”. As one might expect of Coetzee, he offers a shrewd counter to “the inherent intellectual muddle of the Rainbow Project” (here the Nobel laureate was ahead of most of his compatriots, who have taken another decade to start questioning the over-simplification of ‘nation building’ as it was envisioned in the 1990s):
Part of the experience of being colonised is having images of yourself made up by outsiders stuffed down your throat. Today’s image-makers and image-marketers have no interest in complex realities, or indeed in anything that cannot be expounded in fifteen seconds. The truth is, their trade is not in reality at all: it is in what they call perceptions. In this respect they are continuous with the people behind the South African government of the 1980s, the ideas men and academic advisors who saw the war their patrons were engaged in as a theatre of images in which they were losing because the world audience had a perception of them as racists lording it over a subject population and a perception of their opponents as a liberation movement. Their advice to their



clients was to mount campaigns to reverse these perceptions, not to change their hearts and mend their ways (such advice would have seemed to them simply inappropriate, outside their assignment). In this banal sense, they were beyond good and evil. Those concerned with the real future of South Africa, starting with the State President [Nelson Mandela] and the good Archbishop [Desmond Tutu], would do well to keep a firm distance between themselves and these shadow-players.

Readers can draw their own conclusions about what Coetzee would make of Invictus, the widely-publicised film version of John Carlin’s book Playing the Enemy, in which Matt Damon (as Francois Pienaar) and Morgan Freeman (as Madiba himself) recreate the symbolic significance – in one sense profound, in one sense inadequate – of Mandela’s involvement in the victorious Springbok campaign. In the present volume, a number of contributors refer to the seminal events of 1995, as well as to their depiction on the page and on screen. Some affirm the association of sport (and the rugby-Mandela-Pienaar trifecta in particular) with ‘nation building’, while others reject it as superficial and even cynical. Irrespective of what one makes of Invictus’ portrayal of a certain historical moment, for many rugby enthusiasts – players and fans alike – the film fails in its depiction of the on-field action: broadly, insofar as it is unable to capture what it actually looks and feels like to be involved in a game of rugby and, more specifically, because insufficient attention has been given to recreating the nuances of the actual matches played by the Springboks prior to and during the 1995 World Cup (supporting actors are poorly cast, crucial details neglected). These particular shortcomings are evident to all those who are both consciously and subliminally familiar with the intricacies of camera angles, soundbites, lighting and colour in the iconic footage that was broadcast live on TV and has since been replayed in countless documentaries, retrospectives and adverts.

Poor Relations?


The re-enactments in a film like Hansie inevitably fall short for the same reason. Over the years, South African cricket fans have revisited, with alternating delight and masochistic gloom, images of famous encounters against Australia (before the ‘438 game’): Shane Warne being smacked out of the park at the Wanderers in 1994, Alan Donald and Lance Klusener getting their signals mixed during that run-out off the penultimate ball in the 1999 World Cup semi-final. There is simply no way that a filmic recreation could ever match the visual drama inscribed in the collective memory of the cricket-loving public. If, in some future time, a footballing film-maker decides to shoot a feature on the African Cup of Nations win in 1996 or – who knows? – a 2010 triumph for Bafana Bafana, he or she will be doomed to produce the same anti-climactic effect. Whether we like it or not, every time we follow the travails of our sporting heroes (unless we’re fortunate enough to have tickets for the game), as sports fans we are first and foremost media consumers. A few generations ago the media consumed were newspapers and radio broadcasts – then, it was still possible to recreate sporting magic onscreen without inducing disappointment or even bathos in the viewer. Now, however, the artistry entailed in turning real-life sporting contests into an audiovisual dramatic performance belongs to the producer or editor of a TV broadcast, as he or she cuts between cameras and gives us instant slow-motion replays. Film directors and actors must seek their material elsewhere. * So much for 1995. With the prospect of hosting the 2010 FIFA Football World Cup imminent, there has again been conjecture over how the South African nation will be projected into the global imagination or, to borrow a phrase, how South Africa’s identity will continue to be constructed in the ‘global imaginary’ through the pageantry of the opening and closing ceremonies. The use of Charlize Theron as



‘lovely assistant’ to FIFA Secretary-General Jérôme Valcke at the celebrity-heavy ceremony put on for the World Cup draw in December 2009, along with performances by Johnny Clegg, the Soweto Gospel Choir and the cast of the musical Umoja, gives us some idea of what current “image-makers and image-marketers” (as Coetzee calls them) expect the world to expect from South Africa. The influx of visitors to the country for the World Cup (and a brighter international media spotlight on various aspects of ‘life in South Africa’) presents an opportunity for local artists to promote their work to a global audience. This potential symbiosis between sport and art in 2010 has, however, already proved fractious. Sean O’Toole, one of South Africa’s leading fine arts journalists, has expressed disillusionment regarding what he sees, not as opportunity, but as opportunism:
Football is the beautiful game. It is also a professionalised ball sport that allows us to marvel at the innate prowess of young men (and increasingly women) in their physical prime. Art, conversely, is not a game, even if its best practitioners possess all the audacity and grace of Cristiano Ronaldo running at a centre back. Art is a finely tuned balance of craft and thought, the mental reverie it involves now increasingly viewed as the defining element in the equation. Let me simplify. Artists, unlike the masterful footballers Fernando Torres or Samuel Eto’o, are not defined by their prowess of making anymore, not singularly. They can subcontract the physical labour of sweating. This is a magic act not even Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola could hope to conjure. To summarise then: art is not soccer, and soccer is not art. Whether you’re a fan of Orlando Pirates or Club Atlético River Plate, this potentially tautological piece of wisdom is pretty much selfevident. Undeterred ... artists, curators, entrepreneurs and plain old hucksters are readying themselves for the first whistle of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Poor Relations?


O’Toole mentions uninspiring photographic essays about football on the African continent and the Artists of Africa Exhibition opening at Johannesburg’s Museum Africa in May 2010, along with other instances of artists “jockeying for position around the pigskin [football]” while making a “panicked hunt for a quick buck”; he singles out art dealer Craig Mark, who has obtained a licence from FIFA to supply official ‘art products’ through the 2010 Fine Art collection. Others, such as Mark himself and artist-critic Thembinkosi Goniwe (appointed as curator of the Museum Africa exhibition), have defended the support of state institutions and of organisations such as FIFA for 2010-related arts initiatives. It remains to be seen which camp will be vindicated. J.M. Coetzee’s point about contriving and marketing a national identity is well taken, but the Rugby World Cup was only one example among many attempts to build unity on the rainbow model. There is, perhaps, a defence to be made of campaigns aiming to bring South Africa’s different racial, cultural and linguistic groups under a single ‘umbrella’ identity. At the very least, one should bear in mind the apartheid-era insistence of the late Guy Butler (another writer and scholar who admitted he wasn’t much good at sport) that, once the politico-legal segregation of apartheid was dismantled, it would require a conscious effort of the imagination if “flowers of synthesis” were to grow amongst South Africa’s disparate peoples. A common national identity can, indeed, be created – all nations are, as Benedict Anderson would have it, “imagined communities” – and perhaps this is a necessary counterbalance to the artificial identities manufactured through racial segregation. Alternatively, one may argue that, precisely because the support of sport has traditionally been linked to local, regional or national affiliations (and given that such parochial loyalties can lead to, or perpetuate, or aggravate conflict), the globalising impetus of professional sport is slowly starting to undermine petty nationalist and cultural-ethnic rivalries. The club-swapping superstars of the European football leagues,



the big budget auctions for international players in the hyperbolical cricketing entertainment of the Indian Premier League (IPL), the osmosis of rugby players across the northern hemisphere/southern hemisphere divide – all of these make it increasingly difficult for sports fans to resort to simple-minded jingoism or patriotic fervour when they’re cheering on their heroes. Or do they? Successful sportspeople are appropriated as national figures irrespective of their provenance; as British journalist Rob Steen has noted, no-one in England seems to mind that four of the current stars of the English cricket team are South African born and raised (and that, hypothetically, England could field a team of eleven composed entirely of expat South Africans). There are, of course, many people in South Africa who do mind, people who no doubt share Toast Coetzer’s belief, as expressed in his contribution to this book, that there is nothing worse than seeing a South African sports team lose to England. Dan Nicholl, in his entertaining recollection of great sporting moments, alludes wryly to another national rivalry – perhaps antagonism is a better word – between South Africa and Australia; yet it was anti-English sentiment that came to the fore in pubs and living rooms across South Africa during the tense moments of the 2007 Rugby World Cup final and the more recent 2009-10 home and away cricket series contested by the two countries. In the former, jeers at the TV were followed by a national sigh of relief when it was ruled that Danie Rossouw’s desperate tryline tackle on Mark Cueto had done just enough to force the English winger’s foot into touch, preventing what would have been a crucial turning point in the second half. In the latter, mounting excitement after the Proteas’ bowlers finally managed to work their way through the English batting order was followed by a national groan of disappointment as – not once, but twice – tail-ender Graham Onions held out against the tired efforts of Makhaya Ntini and Morne Morkel in the final overs of test matches in Pretoria and Cape Town respectively.

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Much as an adrenaline-fuelled patriotism might drive one’s exultant or despondent response to the live sporting event, however, I would argue that these moments retain their appeal because, when revisited weeks or months after the fact, they can be appreciated for what might be termed their ‘artistic’ qualities. Slow-motion footage reveals Rossouw’s and Cueto’s horizontal bodies moving gracefully, albeit with great momentum; there is the aesthetic thrill of the ever-so-slight contact between the boot and the line; and when we recall in our minds the drama of the moment we immerse ourselves in it anew, but with the gratification (or, if you’re English, the compensation) of mellowed emotions. Similarly, the improbable symmetry of the Onions scenario has the feeling of a carefully scripted narrative, and the archetype of the ‘last man standing’ cannot fail to evoke a response of admiration – however grudging, however reluctant – from the most ardent Proteas supporter. It’s pure theatre. This is true of many other great South African sporting moments, moments that have spurred on patriotic fervour but that are ultimately of lasting interest because of a human story unrelated to national pride. Think of Josiah Thugwane, running a victory lap with a South African flag draped over his shoulders after winning gold in the marathon at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and subsequently declaring: “I won the medal for all the people of South Africa and especially for my president, Nelson Mandela, who made it possible for us to be part of the international community.” Recollections of such scenes and soundbites are tinged with nostalgia for the optimism (and admittedly, in retrospect, the naivety) of the mid-1990s, South Africa’s halcyon post-apartheid period. But it is Thugwane’s individual tale, of the illiterate miner-turned-marathoner who received a gunshot wound during a hijacking only months prior to the Olympics – and whose new-found fame proved to be a mixed blessing – that is more moving and, from a humanist perspective, more significant. *



Stuart Theobald, in an essay that largely argues against the dualistic separation of sport and the arts, nevertheless points out one of the key differences between the two pursuits: while the arts are less easily recruited to the promotion of a particular idea of ‘the nation’, the character of sporting endeavour “is deeply nationalist – the pinnacle of a discipline is representing your country”. Yet the most rousing patriotic sentiments on a sports field are often stirred, before the game has even begun, by a moment of ‘artistry’: the singing of the national anthems. As evidenced by the shame and anger following Ras Dumisani’s botched rendition of the South African anthem when the Springboks took on France in Toulouse in 2009, anthem-singing constitutes a performance that requires ‘big match temperament’ of an artist. And when the artist fails, this has an effect on the sportspeople (the anthem debacle was by no means solely to blame for the Boks’ sub-par performance, but it clearly had a deflating impact). Vice-captain Victor Matfield, in a post-match interview, noted that singing the anthem is “almost like receiving a jersey – every week’s a special moment”: “Every time you go out on the field and sing the national anthem, it’s very important and it really fires you up because you know you’re playing for your country. It was a joke out there. The guys couldn’t sing along to it and even the crowd were starting to laugh. It was very disappointing.” Whether despite or because of such nationalistic concerns, it can be argued that – both spontaneously and through intervention or contrivance – sport has fostered and will continue to foster a measure of unity in this country. By and large, however, it has been a divisive phenomenon. On one level, there is the obvious antagonism, sometimes jocular and sometimes dangerously serious, created by regional or club loyalties among supporters of professional (and sometimes even amateur) sport. As both Mninawa Ntloko and Lucky Sindane show in their essays, for many sports fans the parochial often takes precedence over the national. Indeed, a recent advertisement for a

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South African beer brand takes advantage of this tension by showing how fans from opposing PSL soccer teams can unite behind Bafana Bafana if they drink the team sponsor’s brew (here one can apply Simon van Schalkwyk’s analysis of the fusion of nation building and product promotion in an earlier advert for the same brand). On another level, race-based divisions in post-apartheid South Africa have been aggravated by conflicting opinions about transformation in the administration of sport and racial representation – or, more captiously, tokenism – in the composition of sports teams. Under apartheid, the ‘big three’ sports were strongly associated with ethnicity: soccer was a ‘black’ sport, rugby and cricket were ‘white’ sports (with rugby tending to be ‘Afrikaans’, cricket ‘English’). Prior to this, as has been well documented, cricket and rugby were significant forces in the colonising process, imported to South Africa and promoted in this country because they were seen to embody the imperial English ethos, long before rugby was appropriated by Afrikaner nationalists. It is worth noting that voices critical of the alliance between sport and empire-building had already emerged by the end of the nineteenth century. I am grateful to Patrick Cairns, one of the contributors to this book and a man of unusual reading habits, who came across the following complaint in the correspondence (edited by Phyllis Lewsen) of colonial-era Cape politician John X. Merriman:
It may be questioned whether this enormous interest in looking at athletic performances which seems to exist throughout the British world is really so healthy a sign as it is sometimes supposed to be. The Greeks in their decline carried their love of gymnastics to an excess and it coexisted with an utter lack of manly robustness of character and of public spirit, but it is a growing fashion of the day to congratulate ourselves in the press that it is a noble and saving virtue, belonging exclusively to the fine British character at a time when a good many other things



are slipping away from us. Amid some good there is a great deal of most unmitigated humbug about it.

The historians Andre Odendaal and Bruce Murray have written extensively about the racialisation of sport in South Africa (as have two of the contributors to this book, Christopher Merrett and Ashwin Desai) and have traced the complex effects of the non-racial sporting movement within the country, as well as the international sports boycott against it. Their accounts also demonstrate that many common assumptions about connections between sport and race politics in this country over the last two centuries are fallacious – that, for example, cricket and rugby were not in fact successfully preserved as ‘white sports’ (Gwen Ansell’s piece in the present volume provides further evidence of “the hidden history of black rugby”, linking this to some of the icons of South Africa’s jazz legacy). Similar patterns may be identified in the history of the performing and visual arts in South Africa: on the one hand, the promotion and protection of Eurocentric art forms alongside the establishment of South Africa as colony, union and republic; on the other, the fertile interaction between these imported forms and indigenous artistic traditions. The second half of the twentieth century saw both government sponsorship of works of art that were not deemed a threat to Nationalist policies, or that indeed celebrated them, and brave resistance from artists of all backgrounds to the hegemonic edifice of apartheid. But South Africa’s arts community has also been riven by the question of transformation since 1994 – as demonstrated, for example, in the controversy stirred by Lion King co-producer Lebo M in 2008 when he complained that theatre awards weren’t racially representative. Neither our sportspeople nor our artists could claim that they exercise their craft independently of politics. Most sportspeople, undoubtedly, wish that they were free to concentrate solely on their performances

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without having to worry about off-field events, but just as South African athletes are all too aware of their role in racial transformation, so recent terrorist attacks on the Togo football team (in Angola) and the Sri Lankan cricket team (in Pakistan) have painfully reinforced what previously emerged at various Olympic Games – think, for example, of Berlin 1936, Munich 1972, Moscow 1980 and Los Angeles 1984 – that sport is often at the mercy of geopolitical developments. By contrast, Mike van Graan argues in his essay that art must be informed by the political context of the artist. Moreover, as Gavin Sourgen and Stuart Theobald separately note, artificial distinctions between what constitutes ‘high art’ and what is mere ‘popular entertainment’ are politically inflected. Ashwin Desai’s description of current conflicts in KwaZulu-Natal between the elitist and the popular, or the privatised and the public, further complicates our definition of art. A Durban beachfront rickshaw driver is both performing artist and athlete. The Umgeni Road Temple, situated within earshot of the new Moses Mabhida stadium (itself a shrine or site of pilgrimage, albeit of a different sort), is adorned with artwork that dramatises the pantheon and prophecies of Hinduism. Fire-spinners and dancers meeting on the fringes of the city enact a communal artistic ritual. Even re-enactments of the Battle of Isandlwana must be understood as a form of theatre – causing Desai to question the negative influence such portrayals can have on the way that historical events are interpreted. * At the risk of seeming like a Coetzee acolyte, I wish to refer to another of his essays, “Four Notes on Rugby” (1978), in which he makes numerous comments about rugby that might be extrapolated into generalisations about all sports – introducing a few points addressed by some of the contributors to this book (my thanks to Coetzee scholar Donald Powers



for pointing me in the direction of this little-known piece). Those who have attempted to follow the various major and minor changes in the rules of the game of rugby in recent years may laugh to find themselves agreeing, three decades later, with Coetzee’s complaint that the “labyrinthine set of laws” is “unsatisfactory” because:
1) They are inexact [and] allow a variety of interpretations 2) They yield a phase of play without aesthetic interest 3) They fail to prevent injuries and allow some covert violence 4) By and large they fail to keep the ball live as they are intended to do 5) They contribute heavily to making rugby a game whose outcome is decided by prowess at goal-kicking.

Whatever their limitations might be, rules are necessary in all sports. Coetzee observes that the general agreement to play by the rules (and, if not, to be penalised) is fundamental to human social relations and can be observed in the games that children play. But, whereas children frequently challenge and change the rules by which they play, this is not tolerated on the sports field:
In schools, and particularly in boys’ schools, the line between ‘free play’ and sport is clearly drawn, and always to the disadvantage of play. Sport is given an ideological function (‘character-building’) while play remains suspect, frivolous. From long before adolescence the child is put under pressure to leave the open air of games and live under the umbrella of the codes ... The child who submits to the code and plays the game is therefore re-enacting a profoundly important moment of culture: the moment at which the knee is bent to government. This is the moment at which sport and the arts, the two most complex forms of play, part ways. In the creative arts, the artist both composes his game and plays it. He thus asserts an omnipotence that the player of

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sports yields up. This helps to explain why sports are so easily captured and used by political authority, while the arts remain slippery, resistant, undependable as moral training grounds for the young.

Here, Coetzee echoes a sentiment expressed in the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga’s important 1938 study, Homo Ludens (“Man the Player”), in which he theorises that play is a vital aspect of the formation of culture. According to Huizinga, the “systemisation and regimentation” of modern competitive sport – professional sport in particular – has forced out the play-element, the element of “spontaneity and carelessness”. Sport thus “occupies a place alongside and apart from the cultural process”. No matter how popular or spectacular a sporting event may be, says Huizinga, it cannot be “raised to the level of a culture-creating activity” and remains “sterile”. There are various points made by Coetzee and Huizinga that are explored, directly and indirectly, by contributors to Sport versus Art. Firstly, aren’t there ways to regain the play-element in sport through a disrupting infusion of the ‘play’ of art? In her essay on the playful performance art interventions of Anthea Moys, Anthea Buys suggests that there are – and yet she also describes Moys’ work, quoting the artist herself, in terms that are strongly resonant with a more recent Coetzeeism (thanks to Corina van der Spoel for bringing to my attention this extract from Diary of a Bad Year):
In favour of the arts it can at least be said that, while every artist strives for the best, attempts to cast the sphere of the arts as a competitive jungle have had little success. Business likes to finance competitions in the arts, as it is even readier to pour money into competitive sport. But, unlike sportspeople, artists know that the competition is not the real thing, is only a publicity sideshow. The eyes of the artist are, finally, not on the competition but on the true, the good, and the beautiful.



There is, of course, an argument to be made for the social value of sport’s competitive edge; it channels inevitable human antagonism into a safe, rule-bound sphere. As poet Christopher Zithulele Mann has written, sporting “rites” have the power to “transmute/the thuggish rivalry of human genes”(self-preserving survivalist genes that, if “thwarted”, can either “subtly shaft a friend/or bomb whole cities into smoking ruins”) into a more noble contest. Secondly, although “the arts remain slippery”, there is no doubt – as I have already suggested – that art, like sport, has been used very effectively by political authorities; in South Africa, Christopher Merrett argues, this is as true of post-apartheid ideologues as it was of the Nationalist government. Thirdly, as Helen Moffett admits, the necessarily rule-bound nature of sport can be reassuring: when one lives in a lawless and reckless society, the on-field agreement of players from opposing sides to abide by the laws of the game (most of the time) and the even application of those laws by umpires and referees (most of the time) provides a modicum of order; the cosmos may be chaotic, but sport offers comfort, structure and respite. For this reason, although human dishonesty and human error creep into players and officials respectively, with the result that what happens on the field is not always fair – this is, in fact, often what provides the greatest drama and evokes the most acute sense of pathos in memorable fixtures – we cling to the idea that sporting endeavour is equated with honesty. One need only look at the public outcry over recent instances of cheating, from doping athletes to the unfortunate hand of Thierry Henri, for confirmation that the principle is held dear despite all evidence to the contrary. Notwithstanding the critiques Coetzee offers in the essays from which I have quoted, he does not actually claim to dislike the game of rugby in particular, or sport in general. On the contrary, in interviews

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(with David Attwell) and elsewhere in his work (notably Boyhood and Youth) he has made numerous references to the fact that when he was a teenager “life outside the classroom was dominated by sport, particularly cricket”. As an aspirant twenty-something writer, he cultivated the idea that “team sports were incompatible with the life of a poet and an intellectual” – the kind of contempt for sport that it is de rigueur amongst the intelligentsia – but he would soon discover that his enjoyment of a game like cricket could complement his literary ambitions: “Is it true that art comes only out of misery? Must [one] become miserable again in order to write? Does there not also exist a poetry of ecstasy, even a poetry of lunchtime cricket as a form of ecstasy?” Coetzee confessed some years ago to a continued “investment in sport, or at least what the spectacle of sport promises and now and again yields: instants of strength and speed and grace and skill coming together without thought”. This is a description of the invigorating aesthetic experience of sport – what makes commentators describe an athlete’s muscular agility as ‘poetic’. The thrill that one can experience watching sportsmen and sportswomen is equivalent to the spine-tingle evoked by a daring dance routine, a musical climax or a riveting piece of acting; Angus Powers explores the dynamics of “the art of sport” in his essay. (It should be added that the word ‘art’ remains open to misuse in sporting discourse – consider former Springbok lock and part-time Sports Illustrated columnist Mark Andrews singing the praises of “the art of intimidation” on the rugby field. Can sheer belligerence and smiling-faced thuggery ever really be deemed an art form?) Those two words with which Coetzee ends, “without thought”, would seem to preclude any substantial equation of sport with art. After all, the assumption that artistic endeavours depend on abstract cognition, whereas playing sport is an unthinking exercise, is the premise from which grows the general disdain for sport expressed by many who would describe themselves as being of an intellectual inclination.



Nonetheless, it is taken for granted that one of the tasks of our writers and artists is to comment insightfully on South African society and social phenomena – and isn’t the overriding popularity of our major sports one such phenomenon? In his “Four Notes on Rugby”, Coetzee expresses disappointment in South African sports journalism of the 1970s, which he feels “remains bogged down in the most crudely positivistic conception of what it is like to watch (‘X dummies and breaks through a tackle before passing to Y, who scores in the corner’)”. Of course, anyone who has followed the entertaining ball-by-ball updates on cricket website www.cricinfo.com can confirm that this kind of detailed description and literary wit are not mutually exclusive! But what Coetzee is really criticising is a lack of insight, of intellectual substance and probably of linguistic flair in the sports pages: “The situation is absurd. For thousands of people, Saturday afternoons in winter form the climax of the week, an experience they afterward stammer to speak about because they lack the words. They devour the sports reports looking for bread, and find only stones.” This metaphor hints at a religious dimension to the sporting experience. Coetzee writes of “an island of eighty minutes lifted out of the time of one-thing-after-another”, noting that “the game promises to give meaning to a stretch of time” – a kind of secular transcendence that is also comparable to the experience offered by the arts (sport “is like narrative” in this way, suggests Coetzee). In similar vein, Christopher Mann’s poem “Real Cricket” describes how a group of amateur players “cross a rope, a boundary line/that rings a world of make-believe”:
where cricket for a day transcends the scams and scandals of the week, where industry and farming pause as caps and floppy hats inspect the pitch.

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Mann’s poetry forges interesting connections between sport and literature – he writes elsewhere about “the sport of a poem”. In the present volume, Toast Coetzer, Victor Dlamini and Angus Powers each probe these associations, while Patrick Cairns contends that sport does not and cannot have the permanent effect achieved by great works of literature. Dan Nicholl, on the other hand, claims that there is something “fundamental” about the “enthralling magic” of sport: “so much of what we love and celebrate can be calibrated in runs and goals and tries”. In similar vein, the testimonies of avid soccer fans collected by Mninawa Ntloko confirm that, for many people, sport fills a kind of existential void, providing a sense of direction and conviction to those whose lives might be lacking such assurances; yet when fanaticism becomes obsession, it can cause serious damage to an already-frayed social fabric. Sports matches, Coetzee observes, are also analogous to “religious spectacles” insofar as everyone in the crowd is “engaged in creating and confirming value for everyone else”. Again, there are resonances with the performing arts. Guy Butler wrote in an essay on “Poetry, Drama and Public Taste” that theatre audiences must be at least “partially submerged in a sense of community” in order for “a psychological ‘crowd’” to be formed, a crowd whose members “look into a doubtful future, but their common past, their sense of sharing a common life, preserves their unity”. In this book, there is an unexpected variation on the theme of theatre, sport and unification when playwright Mike van Graan recalls that watching sport on TV with his father was “the only bridge” between the “parallel worlds” of father and son – worlds which would otherwise “never intersect”. Here it is worth mentioning that, despite his intellectual reservations about rugby, J.M. Coetzee – or, at least, the character of John Coetzee in the third instalment of his fictionalised memoirs, Summertime (2009) – found himself attending matches at Newlands stadium with his father as a Saturday afternoon ritual in



the mid-1970s, because sport was “the strongest surviving bond” in an otherwise disintegrated filial relationship. The connections forged between individuals through sport are often, however, fleeting, and sport’s capacity to mediate in potentially volatile situations is limited. While the protagonist in Richard Ford’s novel The Sportswriter (1986) confidently affirms that “Sports is a first-rate safety valve when you and your whole value system are brought under friendly but unexpected scrutiny” (when meeting his girlfriend’s family proves awkward, he has recourse to sport as a neutral conversation topic), the chaotic unravelling of his relationship that follows gives the lie to this claim. Sport cannot always console, nor can it always offer an escape. * These considerations aside, the question remains: have our sportswriters advanced from producing stones to bread over the last thirty years? Darrel Bristow-Bovey, offering a strident but typically entertaining defence of Peter de Villiers in a Sports Illustrated column, suggests not. Bristow-Bovey compares the coach’s critics to “those half-comical, half-pathetic villains in old cartoons, scheming in their tiny, understocked laboratories to take revenge on a world that doesn’t pay them enough respect”:
Except local sports reporters can’t actually plunge the world into chaos – they’d have to learn to punctuate first – so some of them, the worst kind, the bitter, frustrated, joyless kind, try to do the only thing they can. ‘I may be growing old in a job that doesn’t pay,’ they muse, ‘writing for people who don’t recognise my name about people who don’t recognise my opinion, and my wife doesn’t go down on me any more, but by God I have some power. Mark my words, I’ll get this Springbok coach fired before his contract expires! Then the girls will like me again!’

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Such infantilism, Bristow-Bovey suggests, makes some of our sports journos act like playground bullies, like “vengeful, small-minded flipfloppers with a personal axe to grind”. This is not an anxiety specific to South Africa, as anyone who has read Ford’s novel could confirm. The protagonist of The Sportswriter is a man who has settled for the superficial realities of middle-class America so that he can avoid the tragic truths about his life, about all lives, that patently lurk below the surface – and this is echoed in his decision to give up a promising literary career for the less taxing job of sports journalism. “Sports are always a good distraction from life at its dreariest,” notes Ford’s narrator, and sportswriters have the privilege of emphasising this distraction; they have “a clean slate almost every day ... a chance not to be negative, to give someone unknown a pat on the back, to recognise courage and improvement, to take the battle with cynicism head-on and win”. But this noble calling is not always fulfilled. The worst sportswriters “tend to be cynics looking only for false drama in the germs of human defeat” and, as a result, “a group of sportswriters together can narrow your view far beyond pessimism”. The “cheap-drama artists of my profession,” admits the sportswriter, “are specialists at nosing out failure ... They see only the germs of defeat in victory, venality in all human endeavor.” What Coetzee, Bristow-Bovey and Ford collectively depict is, of course, a misrepresentation, for our best sportswriters manage to avoid the twin traps of producing simplistic, ‘uplifting’ stories on the one hand and manufacturing pathos on the other. A glance at Luke Alfred and Tom Eaton’s compendium of South African sports writing, Touchlines and Deadlines, reinforces this point. And, when local sports journalism currently ranges from the wicked humour of cricket writer and motoring fundi Alex Parker to the provocative musings of football scribe and cartoonist Carlos Amato, we can affirm that there is some bread to be found amongst the stones. In the present volume, Mninawa



Ntloko, Dan Nicholl, Firdose Moonda and Lucky Sindane are all journalists (along with Edward Griffiths, when he’s wearing his journalist’s hat) who write about sport but also write about a lot more than sport; beyond simply covering sporting fixtures and discussing on-field events, they manage to entertain the reader and simultaneously to offer substantial comment and analysis. Indeed, there are many in South Africa’s arts industry who (despairing at media coverage of the arts in this country) would enjoin our arts journalists to follow this example. Of course, journalists working in the print media – globally, not just locally – have their own problems. Newspapers and magazines have struggled to retain readers in the digital age, for print has no place in the saturated multi-media triangle of TV, cyberspace and radio. No study of the relationship between sport and the arts can gloss over the role of the media in shaping that relationship. For instance, when I asked the contributors to this book to consider why it is that sport receives so much more sponsorship than the arts, Stuart Theobald gave me a pragmatic economist’s answer: sport is frankly more TV-friendly than most art forms, which is the real reason it gets more coverage, has larger audiences and is thus more desirable to potential sponsors. A number of the pieces in Sport versus Art address points similar to this one. Victor Dlamini bemoans the fact that football’s suitability to TV broadcasts has alienated a generation of fans from the artistry of radio commentary or the thrill of watching a game live (this may be comparable to the difference between seeing a movie and going to a play, or between listening to a CD and attending a music concert). Simon van Schalkwyk discusses the ways in which ‘nation building’ ostensibly occurs through TV advertising and promotional music. Perhaps most chasteningly, Christopher Merrett suggests that the ‘success’ of professional sport as a media-marketable commodity has been to the detriment of both players and fans. Sport “has not been sponsored,” he writes, “but simply absorbed by big business and a nationalist agenda”; in this

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light, “the arts are better off” because, poor though they may be, they face fewer of the restrictions that accompany corporate or state backing. (It is strangely reassuring to South Africans, perhaps, to reflect that the – usually corrupt – alliance of government, private capital and sport is an international phenomenon. One need only consider the case of Silvio Berlusconi, Italian Prime Minister, ‘mafioso’ businessman and owner of Serie A football giants A.C. Milan.) Merrett’s argument may be endorsed and extrapolated by the observation that, when South African artists do receive large amounts of state funding, it typically carries the taint of ill-judged budgeting or sheer bad governance. Certainly, this was the case in 1996 when the Department of Health (then just beginning a decade and more of incompetence and negligence) gave Mbongeni Ngema more than R14 million to stage Sarafina II as an HIV/Aids educational extravaganza, a sequel that didn’t come close to matching the theatrical and musical power of Sarafina, and indeed undermined by association the activism of the original production. Other notorious white elephant theatre projects on which the state has wasted money include A re Ageng Mzanzi (Let’s Build South Africa), a piece of self-promotion on which the Department of Human Settlements spent R22 million before it was cancelled in 2009. R22 million, coincidentally, is also the figure that the Mpumalanga provincial government set aside for Ngema to put on The Lion of the East, a musical about Gert Sibanda’s 1949 potato boycott. Despite the efforts of Sibanda’s son and various ANC officials to halt the show – they felt that the outlandish sum being spent brought the activist’s legacy into disrepute – it toured nationally in 2009, much to the outrage of those representing major arts institutions whose annual budgets were far eclipsed by the amount splurged on the show. As Janet Smith wrote of the debacle in the Saturday Star: “It pays to sing the government’s praises.” *



When it comes to the scientific analysis of sport, South Africa is a world leader – thanks largely to Tim Noakes and others at the SA Sports Science Institute. In fact, we have a strong tradition of scientists who have applied their minds to the marvel of human movement. World-renowned anatomist, palaeoanthropologist and cricket nut Philip Tobias, for instance, has dedicated a series of papers to elucidating how “Man, the Tottering Biped” developed the physical abilities that allow humans to pursue both artful and sporting endeavours in ways that distinguish us from our “poor relations” (there’s that phrase again!) in the primate family. Here it is worth noting that Tobias makes direct comparisons between the brain functions, fine motor skills, balance and agility required when playing sports and the same capacities as used in artistic performances; singing, piano playing and ballet dancing require precisely the neuromuscular control and coordination that one sees demonstrated on the sports field or in the karate dojo. Tobias’s identification of parallels between martial arts and dancing is echoed in Adrienne Sichel’s piece in this book, in which she quotes the dance persona ‘Elu’ describing his Kung Fu- and kickboxing-infused choreography. (Of course, the fact that we happily categorise the ‘martial arts’ as sports further undermines any notion that sport and the arts are diametrically opposed. There are various Olympic sporting codes that evince a similar crossover – one thinks, for instance, of ice-skating, gymnastics and the much-derided synchronised swimming events.) In addition to hard science, thoroughgoing socio-political analysis of sport in this country has long been in evidence, as a glance at any bibliography of books on sport in South Africa will reveal – if one looks beyond the biographies and autobiographies of sports stars, which are regularly among our highest-selling titles. But analysis of the ‘sportness’ of sport, what one might call phenomenological analysis, remains lacking. We have yet to produce a C.L.R. James, who seamlessly fused cricket with art and literature in writing about West Indian

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and post-colonial identity. Or a Neville Cardus, who was as well known for his writing on cricket as for his writing on classical music (on this note, as Gwen Ansell’s essay indicates, the relationship between sport and music in South Africa has always been far healthier than that between sport and other art forms). Or a Roland Barthes, who turned his acutely theoretical eyes to the Tour de France, to motor racing, to bullfighting and to wrestling. Or, for that matter, a Haruki Murakami, the marathon-running author who has fused his twin passions in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. We do have, in Tom Eaton, someone equally adept as a sports journalist, novelist, columnist and satirist. I distinctly remember the first time I came across his old “Pitch and Mutter” column in the Mail & Guardian – I was living in Japan at the time, and my wife brought a copy of the paper back with her after a visit home. The object of his lampooning that week was the Dutch Masters, a supposed golf tournament infelicitously sharing its name with the moniker used to categorise Rembrandt, Vermeer and their fellow painters in seventeenth century Holland. The absurd combination is a delightful one, suggesting that the conjunction (or disjunction) of sport and the arts provides rich creative ground; but, in another sense, the piece is so funny precisely because it is ridiculous to compare golf and fine art in this way. Eaton himself has insisted that “sport and the arts are two completely separate universes”, something that the zany comedians of Monty Python exploited to similarly humorous effect in a number of their sketches: Socrates and Plato, the Brazilian footballers, morphing into their ancient Greek philosophical namesakes; Thomas Hardy composing a novel in front of a packed crowd at Lord’s cricket ground; Billy Bremner (captain of Leeds United football team in the 1960s and 70s) revising the script of The Importance of Being Earnest so that Oscar Wilde’s famous play includes a series of illegal tacklesfrom-behind.



Perhaps, then, this book can’t afford to take itself too seriously. Nevertheless, it represents an earnest attempt to explore (and even, idealistically, to improve) what remains an often fraught relationship at the heart of South Africa’s public life. Are there ways in which sport and the arts can be seen to inhabit the same universe? Here we have a collection of essays, commentaries, personal reflections, memoirs, polemics and humorous pieces in response to that question. The authors have a wide range of interests and take a variety of approaches to the subject matter – sometimes light-hearted, sometimes critical, but always insightful. The essays have been grouped under broad thematic headings. In the rest of this section, “Kicking Off”, I set an amicably combative tone by pairing two essays that provide different answers to the question: Which matters more – art or sport? These are followed by a piece that offers a caveat about what can happen when sport matters too much. The next section is headed “Media, Money and Politics” and deals with various manifestations of this triad: the contrasting representations of sport and the arts in the media (or, simply, of sport in the media of TV and film, which are themselves forms of art), typically as a result of the separate and combined orchestrations of capital and the state. “Art/Sport?” contains essays that suggest alternative ways of interpreting the punctuation mark separating those two words (and worlds): Art vs Sport? Sport = Art? Sport in Art? Artistry in Sport? Finally, in “Sport, Art and Me: Memory, Nostalgia, Regret”, there are four pieces that are chiefly retrospective but that, in looking back, also evince present and future considerations. Of course, many of the contributions to this book contain personal reflections or elements of the ‘memoir’ narrative, and most of them touch on the other themes I have identified in one way or another. It is not my intention to guide readers through the book; unexpected resonances and contradictions will no doubt be found by each reader,

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who will draw his or her own conclusions. So read it from front to back, from back to front, or dip in and out at your leisure. Despite the reservations I expressed at the start of this introductory essay about the timing of the book’s appearance so close to the 2010 FIFA World Cup, there is an important sense in which it is felicitous. Links between sport, the arts and public life in South Africa will continue to be a significant part of national debates, from the shebeen and the braai all the way to parliament, throughout 2010 and for years to come. I trust that you’ll enjoy Sport versus Art – and join the discussion!

CHRIS THURMAN dabbled in sports science before realising that his vocation lay in more literary pursuits. After stints in Grahamstown, London, Nagoya and Cape Town, he joined the Department of English Literature at Wits University in Johannesburg, where he is currently a lecturer. He has also been a regular contributor to The Weekender, The Sunday Independent and various other publications as an arts critic and travel writer. His other books are Text Bites, a multigenre anthology for high school learners (Oxford University Press, 2009) and the scholarly work Guy Butler: Reassessing a South African Literary Life (University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2010)

Passing Passions, Enduring Love
Patrick Cairns

In a recent spell of channel hopping, I discovered a repeat of the 1993 Wimbledon Ladies Final on television. This was, according to the programme information, one of the top ten matches ever played at the All England Club. Anyone with even a passing interest in tennis will recall the match. The formidable Steffi Graf came up against the serve-and-volleying Jana Novotná. The Czech was leading 6-7, 6-4, 4-1 and with a point for 5-1, when her game fell apart. Graf went on to win the third set 6-4 and reduced Novotná to crying on the shoulder of the Duchess of Kent. It was an enthralling encounter. It delivered all the drama and emotion that one finds in the greatest sporting fixtures. I couldn’t help feeling, however, that neither of those players would match the ferocity of the modern-day Amazons, Serena and Venus Williams. As great as Graf was, barely a decade after her retirement, her game appears a little old fashioned. In comparison, I recently re-read John Steinbeck’s masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath. By any standard, this is one of the great works of literature. Seventy years after it was published, it has lost none of its force. It is brutal, uncompromising and narrated with a compassion for its subjects that few writers can equal. Given the current global economic

Passing Passions, Enduring Love


turmoil, the book’s subject matter is no less relevant now than it was in the 1930s either: “The bank is something more than men,” Steinbeck writes. “It’s the monster. Men made it, but they can’t control it.” The power of the work leads to this kind of response, which I found on the web: “I finished The Grapes of Wrath as a different person from who I was when I began.” Allow me to reveal the first point of my thesis by stating that I don’t believe anyone ever says that about watching a game of tennis. The question of a dichotomy between sport and art is an interesting one. Reducing it to something basic, I could ask: if I were forced to make a choice, would I rather live in a society without art, or one without sport? For me, the answer is quite obvious. A society without art is one that does not question itself, does not test its own boundaries and fails to aspire to any perfectibility. In short, it has no soul. Yet I am quite certain that if it were possible to do a worldwide survey on the question, sport would win by a landslide. My intention here is not to bemoan sport’s predominance. I certainly hope I never have to live in a sport-free society, where the crack of leather on willow or the smell of a freshly cut golf green are only ever imagined pleasures. My intention is to explore the reasons why sport and the arts live these separate lives. There seem to be two, related, causes for sport’s privileged position in society. The first is that, in all honesty, sport doesn’t matter. It is fun, it is healthy, it can be thrilling, provide a test of character and even act as a force for social good. Yet none of that changes the truth that what happens on a rugby field or a netball court is ultimately meaningless. Of course it has potentially significant benefits, but those are merely by-products. I do not say this to demean sport. Games are not meant to matter – that is part of their nature. They are distractions. We all require a step away from the business of living, and that is what sport provides.



I’d suggest that professional wrestling is proof of this. Of course it isn’t sport, but its ancestry is there. Those behind the success of professional wrestling have amplified sport’s greatest appeal – its insignificance. They have enthralled audiences – both those who think that what they are seeing is genuine as well as those who are quite aware that the whole thing is scripted – by turning fluff and bluster into a commodity. This also serves as a good introduction to what I believe is the second cause of sport’s popularity. It seems to me that the more money we collect, the less we want it to matter. The salary of a certain young Portuguese playboy confirms this. Cristiano Ronaldo earns in the region of £200 000 (R2.5 million) a week at Real Madrid. As Daily Telegraph journalist Mark Ogden reports, if Ronaldo stays at Real for five years, his salary will increase by 25 per cent a year. Compounded, this means he will be earning over half a million pounds (R6 million) a week by 2014. To put this into some perspective, South Africa’s GDP per capita is around R70 000, so it will take each South African thirtythree years to produce what Ronaldo currently earns in seven days of kicking around a football. In five years’ time, the average South African will not be living long enough to produce Ronaldo’s weekly wage. In a world beset by need, there can be no explanation for paying that kind of money to a sportsman, except that those who control this money don’t want to spend it on anything meaningful. Their only interest is in making more money, as one must suppose that they are seeking some return on their investment. In simple terms, all that money represents is the possibility of more money. Once in this cycle, it would seem that the less important the thing that is making the money, the better. Sport is an obvious vehicle for capitalist greed, because there is nothing to be lost in corrupting it. In the arts, we are tempted to view these enormous sums of money in sport and feel envious of them. We shouldn’t want that money though. What would artists be worth if we had no more integrity than profes-

Passing Passions, Enduring Love


sional football players? Art as a competitive arena for profit is not art. While sport is distracting us, art should be doing the opposite. The best art does not offer an escape from life. It amplifies it. I’m not arguing that art does not need money. Artists will always find ways to produce their art, but a society that protects and nurtures its artists will always be richer for it. Art, however, exists outside of the demands of a capitalist society. In the words of the great American playwright Arthur Miller (as quoted by Christopher Bigsby): “Don’t be seduced by the idea ... that the bottom line is reality as far as the arts are concerned, meaning, don’t believe that what does not make profit is not valuable.” Miller’s point was that theatre cannot survive without subsidies. If governments are serious about developing local art, then there needs to be financial support for it. Art cannot go the route of professional sport for this though, because it is too important. Miller also recounted how he was once asked whether other businesses that didn’t make money should also be subsidised.
A man in the audience raised his hand and said: I manufacture shoes in Boston and I want to know, if I make a product that isn’t bought in sufficient quantity so I can come out at the end of the year with a profit, why shouldn’t I get a subsidy? ... So I said: You know you’ve raised a real hard one, but can you name me a classical Greek shoemaker? There is a value here which is not material and if we’re going to consistently revert to business nomenclature, we’re dead.

Artists are special. We shouldn’t be ashamed of that. American author Tobias Wolff puts it like this:
We writers are too careful not to romanticize our calling. We’re afraid of sounding soft-headed and self-indulgent. The idea is to make it



seem a job like any other. Well, it isn’t. Nobody would do it if it were. Romance is what keeps us going, the old romantic Frankenstein dream of working a miracle, making life where there was none.

I would add to Wolff’s argument that the greatest amongst us do not merely aspire to this dream, but attain it. In creating life, they also reveal something about the world that has the potential to change the way in which we see ourselves in it. That is what makes Hamlet or Oedipus Rex as relevant today as they ever were, and what makes us keep reading Steinbeck three score and ten years after The Grapes of Wrath was written. Such things do not go out of date, because they reveal something eternal about what it means to be a human being. As engaging and entertaining as sport might be, it cannot do that. The highs and lows of a game are never more than passing passions. Sport is so popular precisely because it is unchallenging. The truth may be that as the world becomes more complex, so both art and sport become more important. We need artists to lead our questioning and understanding of the madness around us, just as we need sportsmen and sportswomen to distract us from it, to stop it from overwhelming us. Sport and art are not in competition. In many ways they are complementary, and we need both if we are to maintain equilibrium between those things that matter and those that don’t. What we mustn’t do though, is let the profits promised by sport seduce us away from supporting the arts. For, as Steinbeck sums it up in Journal of a Novel:
It is the duty of the writer to lift up, to extend, to encourage. If the written word has contributed anything at all to our developing species and our half developed culture, it is this: Great writing has been a staff to lean on, a mother to consult, a wisdom to pick up stumbling folly, a strength in weakness and a courage to support sick cowardice.

Passing Passions, Enduring Love


And how any negative or despairing approach can pretend to be literature, I do not know. It is true that we are weak and sick and ugly and quarrelsome, but if that is all we ever were, we would millenniums ago have disappeared from the face of the earth, and a few remnants of fossilized jaw bones, a few teeth in strata of limestone would be the only mark our species would have left on the earth.

PATRICK CAIRNS was born in Pretoria in 1978. He is an author and playwright. His sporting heroes include Gerbrand Grobler, Goran Ivanisevic and Mark McNulty. His literary heroes include Kurt Vonnegut, Julian Barnes and Carson McCullers.

Why Sport Matters
Dan Nicholl

As an iconic moment in South African sport, it’s not quite a warm Saturday afternoon at Ellis Park in 1995. Matt Damon won’t be playing Matthew Garrett in a movie any time soon, and Morgan Freeman is a most unlikely candidate to reprise Alastair Murray’s loping counterattacks in the University of Cape Town’s number 15 jersey. But the day Garrett – a second-year business science student unknown beyond his circle of acquaintance and the university’s composite drinking holes – wrote his name unexpectedly into the enduring rivalry of UCTStellenbosch rugby derbies sits comfortably amongst my chronicle of unforgettable sports experiences over the last decade, if only for the casual brazenness and wonderfully inappropriate theatre the moment provided. And all the more so given the contrast between Garrett’s star turn, and the chaste, sterilised environment that professional sport in the modern era strives (not always with success, thankfully) to operate in. To Garrett’s big day in a moment. First, though, the experiences that make up the more conventional fabric of my decade or so following assorted sporting endeavours. If all this sounds like an exercise in casting names from great heights, then to an extent it is – but getting to know the people behind the headlines has been the defining privilege of my

Why Sport Matters


flirtations with South African sport. From the stands, players are often little more than caricatures, vignettes of excellence (or, on occasion, lack thereof), only seen beyond their chosen field in a bland press conference, a cliché-laden post-match interview, or in the awkward endorsement of a product on television (the Jacques Kallis Sanex adverts spring gloriously to mind here). Step inside the boundary rope, however, and you discover a world beyond 80-ball hundreds, Lays crisps commercials and earnest assertions that “the spirit in the camp is good and the guys will give 110 per cent”. Here, then, a rather selfindulgent set of reflections that sum up just why sport is my particular brand of faith. * It’s ten to one in the morning in a tented marquee in Scotland, and a tall Dutchman with spiked tufts of hair is trying to make himself heard above the combined enthusiasm of Huey Lewis, Ronan Keating, Bon Jovi drummer Tico Torres, Don Kelder of The Eagles, and the unlikely fifth celebrity member of the impromptu musical act currently on stage: one Kelly Slater, world champion surfer and, it turns out, a more than capable guitarist. But the man from Holland is warming to his topic, and manages to compete with the pick-up band that has Shane Warne, Hugh Grant and Trevor Immelman glued to the dance floor – and when Ruud Gullit has something to say, an ardent football fan will hardly let a Slater guitar solo serve as distraction. If you’re on an autograph spree, then the Saturday night gala dinner at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship is prime hunting ground. As well as the stars already mentioned, Sir Ian Botham, Tim Henman, Sirs Steven Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent, Michael Vaughan, Sean Fitzpatrick, Marco van Basten, Hugo Porta, Steve Waugh, Sir Bobby Charlton, Johan Cruyff and Schalk Burger Senior – the man on whose



hands those of the Incredible Hulk were modelled for the movie – sashayed through a night of golfing celebration in 2009, all guests of Johann Rupert, who might just have history’s single greatest collection of celebrity numbers on his mobile phone. But where you might have expected the collected greatness to be lounging on Roman couches being fed peeled grapes by Venezuelan virgins, they’re a normal lot away from the media prism, lapping up the music, having a little too much to drink and, in the case of Gullit, fascinated with the South African World Cup, the preparations involved, and the conveyor belt of coaches Bafana Bafana runs through. (For the record, I offered Ruud the position; he politely declined.) Which meant we were two blokes standing at a bar talking football. Granted, one of us was a two-time World Footballer of the Year who captained the Netherlands to victory in the 1988 European Championships, while the other could boast of little more than scoring a cracker from 35 yards for Dippers United versus the Ajax Cape Town staff – but away from the glare of the public eye, sport has a wonderfully simple way of reducing the chasm between superstar and man in the street. Golf has provided a number of the tales I regularly inflict upon my long-suffering mates. The sadly-departed Nelson Mandela Invitational, Gary Player’s annual charity challenge at Arabella, was another event that brought assorted stars together. Hollywood icons like Samuel L. Jackson united with myriad sportsmen, from Kenny Dalglish and Nigel Mansell to Michael Stich and Gary Kirsten (a man who’d comfortably taken on Brett Lee on a fast bowler’s dream pitch at the WACA in Perth, but who went white with terror when confronted with television cameras and a crowd of 14 on the first tee). The tournament was an endless stream of the unexpected: Gary Player lighting up the dance floor on his seventieth birthday with moves somewhere between Travolta and Astaire; Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter joining the aforementioned Keating on stage for a belligerent rendition of “Rollercoaster”;

Why Sport Matters


Poulter, dressed in shimmering purple velvet, waging a melodramatic bidding war with Ernie Els, at an evening auction, for a painting of Nelson Mandela. But for myself and Christian Stewart, the modestly talented centre who overcame limited natural ability and a startling lack of speed to play in World Cups for both Canada and the Springboks, the Nelson Mandela Invitational means one thing: Samuel L. Jackson, standing beside us at a buffet station (familiar territory for Stewart), giving us his famous Pulp Fiction soliloquy taken from Ezekiel – in full and in character. Stewart and I spent the rest of the night bouncing off the walls of the hotel, starstruck kids dizzy with excitement. Golf, boring? My mate Sam plays it, and he sure isn’t ... Trevor Immelman wasn’t a Major winner when he played in the Nelson Mandela Invitational alongside Player, but Gary predicted great things for his young countryman; Immelman’s most valued wardrobe item is now a bottle green jacket, acquired in 2008 at Augusta as Masters champion. It’s an odd town, Augusta – for the most part an endlessly depressing stretch of strip malls, fast food joints and revivalist churches – but the famed stretch of green that has made the town a place of pilgrimage for the planet’s golfers sits in wonderful contrast. Pass through the gates of Augusta National, and the sheer sense of history and tradition takes the breath away; on my first morning on the course, I stood, petrified (in the true sense) on the first fairway, trying to take in just where I was. There’s a similar feeling at the Old Course at St. Andrews, where lining up my tee shot on the opening hole is the second most terrifying thing I’ve experienced in sport (seeing Toks van der Linde emerge from the shower at a golf day still ranks at number one). Just being at Augusta for The Masters is one long shiver, and all the more so if you were a South African following Immelman in 2008. I wore my South African flag golf trousers on the final Sunday, when ‘some South African guy’ was expected to accede to the charge of Tiger



Woods, a man whose status as deity in America can only be fully realised when you’re at a tournament in the States that he’s playing in. But it turned out that ‘some South African guy’ had a little more fight than the locals anticipated, and Tiger’s stroll to another Major didn’t eventuate. Instead, blocking out the roars from around the course that meant Woods had done something (in America, Tiger can sink a sixty-footer for eagle, a two-footer for par, or high-five his big Kiwi bodyguard, and the crowd erupts with equal ferocity), Trevor Immelman hung on to become Masters champion and make good on the predictions of the only other South African to have conquered Augusta National. An inordinate number of South Africans were at The Masters – I hadn’t seen so many in one place outside South Africa since the last time I’d been on the tube through Wimbledon – including Trevor’s wife, Carmelita. While her husband negotiated Amen Corner, we discussed margarita recipes (the lady from the Dominican Republic who works for the Immelmans apparently makes the world’s finest), adding a further dose of surrealism to an already remarkable day. Walking the Elysian fairways of golf’s most celebrated real estate and watching one of our own don the item of clothing every golfer dreams of ... sport can be cruel and heartless (and frequently is), but occasionally it throws out a script that simply can’t be bettered. For me, Augusta 2008 would be the pick of those perfect days. For all the sporting lows we’ve endured (and there have been many – usually linked to that most revolting of creatures, the sports administrator), there have been plentiful instances of pure delirium. I recall, albeit through a light haze of French champagne, dancing arm in arm with a Durban car guard after 2007’s World Cup triumph, drinking Moet & Chandon out of the bottle and sharing it with anyone who cared to. Celebrating Ryk, Roland, Lyndon and Darian, as South Africa became, in the space of a few minutes in Athens, a nation of swimming fans. Picking up the goosebump thrill of something special,

Why Sport Matters


upon first seeing a 16-year-old Steven Pienaar in an Ajax Cape Town jersey (along with 30-odd other people at a cold, deserted Athlone Stadium). And going completely, unashamedly, cartwheel-through-thestreets berserk when Sepp Blatter drew our name out of the 2010 hat. * A selection of sporting snapshots, then, from events I’ve been to, and ones I’ve watched on television, moments that together weave my own personal tapestry of South African sport experience. But in a nation where a weekend is incomplete without a braai, cold beer, and collective railings against the woeful incompetence of Stuart Dickinson (it was Darrel Bristow-Bovey who once described the chief failing of the Australian referee as having five letters too many in his surname), the religion of sport isn’t limited to the professional game. Whether through support or participation, and in some cases both, many of our most cherished moments come not at Newlands, Soccer City or Ellis Park, but in the more modest confines of village ovals, suburban clubs and rain-soaked fields of mud. Which brings me back to Matthew Garrett’s dazzling cameo. Three thousand people had crammed into the narrow stands flanking the university’s Groote Schuur field, a massive crowd by UCT standards, and a Friday evening fiesta borne of running rugby and inexpensive beer was in full swing as the home side were awarded an attacking scrum inside the Stellenbosch half. Scrum won, ball spun quickly through the hands: flyhalf, first centre, second centre, to Alastair Murray, a tall, striding fullback who might not have been vested of electric pace, but read the game superbly. Hitting the line at just the right moment, he turned to send UCT’s left wing clear – only to be faced by a smiling Garrett (rugby experience: three largely unsuccessful appearances at openside flank for his residence XV that year),



who had left the sidelines, strolled onto the field, and decided to join his university’s backline to support the battle against Stellenbosch. Oh, and he had a beer in one hand. And he was stark naked ... Murray, to his credit, hung onto the ball (although his jaw had dropped visibly), took the tackle, and managed to set up the next phase of play. Garrett, robbed of his chance to breach the Stellenbosch backline and strike a blow for rugby-playing naturists the world over, suddenly realised his beer can was empty and ambled back to the crowd to join two similarly-attired companions, seeing out the remainder of the match in quiet, nude observation, completely unaware of the legend he’d created and that was already gathering momentum via text message to the outside world. The image of Francois Pienaar, holding the Webb Ellis trophy aloft as Madiba looked on and a country exploded with delight, is one of many other images South African sport has so vividly produced; but moments like Garrett’s are part of the supporting cast that makes the sporting experience as a whole so undeniably rich. One final, personal recollection in summing up just why sport is so fundamental to so many of us. Madrid is one of Europe’s regal delights, all trees and old architecture and laidback living – throw in blue skies, great golf courses and a serious commitment to glorious gastronomy, and you can see why Cristiano Ronaldo was happy to leave the cold, grey surrounds of Manchester (although £200 000 a week probably didn’t hurt). Ronaldo’s new home kick-started a dream day out with my mate Pablo Solsona, born in Argentina, raised in South Africa and at that stage resident in the Spanish capital. A very well connected man, Pablo had secured us a guided tour of the Santiago Bernabeu, Real Madrid’s breathtaking football cathedral, including a visit to the home dressing room – an honour rarely granted. In turn, I’d come up with a tee-time at RACE, a suburban golf course just north of the city that meanders gently through a most pleasant 18 holes beneath a warm

Why Sport Matters


Spanish sun, and to complete a Boy’s Own day we spent the evening at the Madrid Masters, watching Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer illustrate just how little of their power, finesse and sheer talent you pick up on television. Beat that for a day of sport. I remember that day with particular poignancy because Pablo is no longer with us: always an adventurous soul (he was a champion skier, had hiked to Everest base camp, and spent his days travelling the world in constant search of the next challenge), a microlight accident suddenly, cruelly ended his bright and vibrant life. But just as Pablo’s 37 years serve as a regular reminder to seize each day by the throat, and wring as much out of it as possible, so our glorious day out in Madrid summed up, very simply, why sport holds us in such an iron grip. Pierre de Coubertin got it half right. It’s not about the winning, although I’ll deny that vehemently when we next lose a key cricket match to get bundled out of a World Cup. But it’s not just about the taking part, either: in South Africa, it’s something far more fundamental than that. It’s knowing that the mood of a country rises and falls with the back page headlines, that so much of what we love and celebrate can be calibrated in runs and goals and tries, and that, as a day in Madrid with a close mate confirmed, sport unites us, draws us together and gives us a platform to enjoy life together like no other. From Francois Pienaar and Nelson Mandela conjuring a rainbow nation out of the fractured rubble of apartheid through 110 minutes of rugby, to a cheerfully inebriated university student adding a dash of casual nudity to a university derby, to a day in Iberia that has taken on a retrospective consequence, sport has an enthralling magic that’s equally at home in a schoolboy game of touch rugby or a World Cup final. And nowhere – listen carefully, Australians – is this more true than in South Africa.



DAN NICHOLL is a writer, broadcaster and journalist based in Cape Town. Formerly sports editor at iafrica.com, Editor-inChief at Golf Punk magazine and sports anchor at Cape Talk, as well as etv’s Champions League anchor, he now runs Skududu Media, appears regularly on SuperSport and several radio stations across the country, and hosts numerous sports events both in South Africa and abroad. His longrunnin g sports column, ‘Dan’s World’ on iafrica.com, continues to ensure that numerous professional sportspeople would happily spend five minutes with him in a darkened alley with a blunt instrument.

The Fine Line between Fanaticism and Obsession
Mninawa Ntloko

So intense is their passion and commitment to ‘the beautiful game’ that funerals, marriages and even the recession have done very little to dissuade fanatical South African soccer lovers from following their teams around the country. Even though South Africa, like most countries, was in the stranglehold of a recession for most of 2009, the Premier Soccer League (PSL) announced in November of that year that attendance figures had increased 11 per cent from 2008 and that supporters were returning to the stadiums in their thousands. While there are those who complain that the price of a ticket to a PSL match – about R20 – is still beyond the reach of many in a country where at least one quarter of the employable population is jobless, it seems nothing is going to keep great numbers of fans from plotting a course towards soccer venues in pursuit of their favourite teams. High-profile Moroka Swallows supporter Thomas “Rasta” Mokhari has been unemployed for several years now but he defiantly maintains that he will always find a way to feed his ‘obsession’: “I usually spend between R3000 and R3500 a month while trying to get to Swallows matches around the country,” he admitted to me in an interview. “I still



do not have full-time employment, but that is not going to stop me from putting on my maroon and white jersey and going to the stadium. Whether the match is in Cape Town, Durban or Bloemfontein, you can be certain that I am going to be among those in the stands.” Mokhari’s obsession is such that his family knows better than to schedule weddings and other gatherings (even funerals) on the same day as Swallows matches. He says some family members have tried to make him choose in the past and they found out just why he is considered Swallows’ number one fan:
Naturally, I will walk out that door and make my way to the stadium while the hearse is backing up to the front gate with the coffin. My reasoning is that the dead person is not going to wake up and doesn’t even have a clue that I’m present at the funeral. I am no miracle worker and cannot wake up the dead. Swallows, on the other hand, need my support and my absence will deprive them of one more voice that could have made a difference. So, should someone decide to go ahead and schedule these events anyway, then it is an absolute certainty that I will not pitch up.

The obsessions of other supporters, however, have been far too great. There have been several instances of supporters taking their own lives after the teams they supported lost. The last known incident occurred in November 2008 in Ivory Park, Midrand, after police found the body of Paol Sithole hanging from the roof of the shack he shared with his wife and three-year-old daughter. Sithole reportedly watched southern Africa’s biggest soccer match – the Soweto derby between Kaizer Chiefs and traditional foes Orlando Pirates – at a local tavern and left in a huff after the Buccaneers emerged 2-0 victors. A staunch Chiefs supporter, Sithole apparently did not take it well when the Pirates followers at the tavern mocked him and his vanquished club.

The Fine Line between Fanaticism and Obsession


“He came back from the tavern, went to his wife, who is a hawker, and told her that he was disappointed by the loss,” Ivory Park police station spokesman Lesiba Manamela was quoted as saying at the time. “He said he could not tolerate the embarrassment of being humiliated by a 2-0 defeat.” Sithole apparently then demanded the keys to their shack from his wife and was later found hanging by an electrical wire from the roof. This case is one of several recorded over the years; it seems that some supporters have such high expectations from their teams that failure is not considered an option. Even without resorting to such extreme measures, many who worship their clubs readily admit that their very existence is planned around the activities of the teams they support. Visible Kaizer Chiefs supporter Saddam Maake, who probably has the highest media profile among soccer supporters in South Africa, says he is “a soccer slave” and the fact that he is single at the moment testifies to his dedication to the sport.
I left my wife in 1990 because she would not stop nagging me about the vast amounts of money I was spending on Chiefs memorabilia. She demanded that I choose between soccer and her – I chose soccer without even thinking twice about it. She did not think that I was serious when I told her to pack her bags and leave. She only realised later that I was dead serious, and eventually left.

Maake – who makes it a point that Chiefs’ gold and black colours are part of his wardrobe seven days a week, and whose house is also painted in the club’s distinctive colours – told me that he met someone else seven years after leaving his first wife, but she also soon grew tired of his obsession with soccer.
I told her to leave too because she just did not get it. The fact is any woman who wants to stay with me should understand that soccer



comes first and she is a distant second. At the moment, soccer comes first, my children come second and there is seemingly no place for a woman. The good thing about my kids is that they understand me and I do not have to explain my mood swings if Chiefs have lost a match. I wake, sleep, walk and talk soccer every moment of my life and, I suppose, no woman is going to accept that unless she is a fanatic like me.

It looks like such one-sided passion can cross the gender divide. As one of comparatively few female supporters in South Africa, Gladys Bailey is difficult to miss in the stands and the staunch Ajax Cape Town fan’s long-suffering husband has had to cope with a wife who seems to be more passionate about the sport than he is. Bailey worked as a banker for First National Bank and after then-coach Clive Barker spearheaded Bafana Bafana to a first-ever Soccer World Cup appearance in 1998, the mother of four decided that she would make it to the tournament in France – no matter what. So she nonchalantly decided to resign from her job to finance that trip. “And guess what, my husband was retrenched soon after I resigned and we found ourselves in a pickle,” she says, with her trademark hearty laugh. “We still went to the World Cup anyway and even went to the 2002 tournament in South Korea and Japan.” Gladys’s husband Basil works for a mining company these days, but he apparently still struggles to deal with the attention his wife always receives. “His friends at work give him a lot of stick for having a wife who seems to be more fanatical about soccer than he is,” notes Gladys. “They tease him when photos of me standing next to guys in the stands are published in the newspapers. They say these guys are my lovers.” Gladys is widely regarded as the Cape Town club’s number one supporter. And yet she resides in Johannesburg. This means that the

The Fine Line between Fanaticism and Obsession


unemployed soccer fanatic regularly commutes between Johannesburg and the Cape to attend matches, which would be a financial burden even to someone who was employed. “A single trip to Cape Town to attend an Ajax home match usually sets me back by about R1000,” she says. “I mostly use the bus but it is still not cheap.” Staunch dedication to the sport of soccer can hurt more than just your pocket – but it is also not without rewards, as Pirates’ number one supporter Nale “Mzion” Mofokeng discovered when he began to lose his eyesight early in 2009. His sight had been deteriorating since the previous year owing to a diabetic condition, and he did not know what to do until the Vodacom Foundation’s Goals for Miracles initiative came to his rescue. In terms of the initiative, a contribution is made for every goal scored by Vodacom-sponsored PSL teams Pirates, Chiefs and Bloemfontein Celtic in the premiership and in the Vodacom Challenge, an annual pre-season tournament that features Chiefs and Pirates against invitational English premier league sides. Goals scored during the Vodacom Challenge raised R450 000, while those scored in the domestic premiership raised R2.48 million, taking the total to R2.93 million. Some of this money was used towards the costs of cataract operations that helped reverse the effects of old age and other ailments such as Mofokeng’s. The 59-year-old, who has been a Pirates supporter since he was nine, has since returned to watching games at the stadiums – proof that passion can be rewarded. Most of these avid club supporters, however, could not say with any certainty, when I spoke to them, that they would be able to watch a live game in the 2010 World Cup as even though the tickets to the FIFA event are priced at a supposedly affordable rate – R140 for the cheapest seats in a special category for South African citizens – that is still steep to supporters who often struggle to find the meagre R20 that gains them access to PSL matches. Moreover, while the supporters I interviewed were never going to admit it, it remains a fact that local



clubs still enjoy far more passionate support than Bafana Bafana could ever muster. South Africa is peculiar in that the national soccer team still plays second fiddle to the club sides – while Bafana might struggle to attract 10 000 or so supporters (on a good day, it has to be added), a club like Chiefs does not even have to raise a sweat to get those numbers through the turnstiles. This book is an attempt to address the relationship between sports such as soccer and another second (or third, or fourth) fiddle: the arts. On the surface, it would seem obvious that the arts in South Africa do not inspire the same kind of fervent, unthinking and perhaps even irresponsible support that our soccer teams do. But perhaps things are not so clear-cut. After all, we romanticise the painter or musician or actor who gives up everything – including relationships and financial stability – to pursue his or her artistic calling. Aren’t our soccer supporters doing the same thing?

MNINAWA NTLOKO is the Sports Editor at Business Day and was a columnist for The Weekender, specialising in soccer. He received the prize for Best Feature Writer at the SAB Sports Journalist of the Year awards in 2004 and an ABSA Cup Award for Best Print Journalism in 2007.

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