A recent article by Dan Retief on Frik du Preez and what the game of rugby means, or meant to some folks, have prompted me to ask if rugby as a professional sport, has crossed the line.
Rugby romantics will love Dan Retief’s article. It is probably the very reason the current generation of rugby supporters started following the game of rugby, where the ethos and camaraderie means a hell of a lot more than the money in the game.
Here you had some of the legends of the game of rugby in South Africa, travelling far and wide to join the man who was voted as South Africa’s player of the Century in celebrating his 75th birthday. You had guys that played with and against him, and even legends of another generation of players who followed in Oom Frik’s footsteps. The common denominator, they are all legends, and they all played during rugby’s amateur days.
Rugby of course had to move the professional route, and a new generation is waking up and beginning to follow and play the game of rugby, ones who will perhaps not share our passion and camaraderie with the game even as simple supporters, but a generation influenced by what now makes the rugby world go round – money.
It might be disrespectful, even patronizing if I was to suggest it is our duty, as the last amateur generation of the game, to teach our kids the ethos of the game, but I don’t think it will be out of line to question the ethics of players, administrators and more importantly, parents of these kids when it comes to embracing professionalism as a reality, but not the foundation the game is built on.
A recent SA Rugby Magazine article highlighted the apparent poaching that is going on in the game of rugby in South Africa. Nothing new I know, but when this article referred to poaching and player recruitment at schoolboy level, we should become very concerned.
Unlike the article I will not take a dig at any individual school mentioned, but rather look at this new phenomenon as a whole.
Rugby is quite simply a game reliant on passion. Passion for your team, passion for the jersey, and passion for its rich heritage and history. Without this, rugby means nothing.
In the very same issue there was another feature of rugby being played in a USA military camp, where the game is used not only to prepare soldiers and equip them with the skills of making quick, efficient decisions in an ever changing dynamic such as the front-lines of war-zones, but also to form a camaraderie amongst these men and women that nothing will ever be able to break or change, not even death.
It is the same camaraderie Dan Retief highlights in his column where decades after these men stopped playing the game, they still make an effort to get together from all over the world, to celebrate the different individuals achievements and even hardships, as a recent initiative to support another Bok legend, Tiny Naude showed, where legends of the game came together to raise funds for their brother in arms who has fallen ill in recent years.
What has become of this ethos and camaraderie if we sell our kids off like cattle to the highest bidder, some of whom have just entered their teen years?
Can we honestly expect this generation of players and even supporters to one day grow up and still write about or discuss events such as we see today with Oom Frik and Tiny Naude? Will we even see John Smit and Victor Matfield 40 years from now to get together and celebrate one another’s birthday – two team mates that have formed such a tight bond over the last 6 years? Like Dan Retief, I am not so sure…
Professionalism in rugby is a reality, and in my opinion even necessary, but not at the expense of what the game stands for, and what it is build on.
We have been given the warning signs in recent years with a certain breed of players, administrators and even journalists which have been created given the nature of the game and how professionalism has changed it. But once we start corrupting our kids, the future custodians of the game, we have crossed the line.Tweet