CAPE TOWN – President Cyril Ramaphosa shared the podium after the Springboks’ World Cup triumph in Tokyo. He wore the green and gold of South Africa and he expressed as much emotion as every other South African buoyed by the Springboks’ success.
President Ramaphosa experienced first-hand the power of rugby in this country to unite and to add to the belief that we, as people, are capable of holding hands, hugging and smiling at each other because of a common cause.
Late president Nelson Mandela famously said that “sport has the power to unite”. Madiba always understood what an influence sport played in the national consciousness.
What has changed so radically from 1995 to 2019 is that the Springboks finally speak to all of South Africa and not just an elite minority. The Boks of 2019 are truly the people of South Africa’s team.
South African rugby, last Saturday night in Tokyo, got given a stage and a platform from which there can never be a regression. There can only be growth in rugby, as a sport and as a vehicle to strengthen the patriotic bond that will make our country that much more desirable.
President Ramaphosa must use the magnificence of Siya Kolisi and his warriors in winning the World Cup, to further drive the potential of rugby in South Africa. This would inspire other sporting codes.
The Springboks for the next four years are world champions and the rugby calendar is structured in a way that there now isn’t a greater sporting occasion than the world champions playing the British and Irish Lions. The latter visit South Africa once every 12 years, and outside of a World Cup final there isn’t a bigger sporting event than the three-Test series against the Lions and the World Cup winners and world champions. The Rugby World Cup Sevens will follow in Cape Town in 2022, which is another first for South Africa and Africa.
What should have followed is the Rugby World Cup 2023. The South African Rugby Union was so cruelly denied hosting the World Cup because of politicking among those who govern the game globally. An independent recommendation, after 18 intensive months, was to award the hosting of the 2023 World Cup to South Africa. The country’s bid document was lauded internationally and locally. South Africa won 17 of the 27 categories. France was second and Ireland third.
World Rugby’s council a fortnight after the recommendation was made public that South Africa’s bid was the best, ruled against the independent verdict. The subjective opinion of elected officials was more powerful than the objective view of independently appointed experts.
It was a crushing blow for South African rugby, but in typical South African fashion there has been the most incredible of fightbacks. The Springboks have put South African rugby back on top of the world.
The British and Irish Lions visit will keep South African rugby an ever-present in international media timelines and the 2022 RWC Sevens will add a finishing touch to the next 36 months.
But what amazing things for this country if 2027 finally brought back the Rugby World Cup for the first time since 1995. The South African Rugby Union understandably has been reluctant to bid for 2027 after the evils of how the 2023 bid played out, but the reaction in South Africa to the Springboks’ World Cup win, the mass euphoria and the fact that President Ramaphosa has been so close to the action since the final, has to be a motivation for the government and South African Rugby Union to prepare a bid that is so compelling that World Rugby’s council cannot ignore it.
The Lions, in 2021, will be the highest-profile sporting event in South Africa since the Fifa 2010 Soccer World Cup. The only global rugby occasion bigger is the World Cup. We had it and lost it for 2023, let’s fight for the right to bring it home in 2027.
Keohane is an award-winning sports journalist and a regular contributor to Independent Media sport