BERLIN – Springbok captain Siya Kolisi has told the biggest sports stars that excelling on the world stage was not about them, and that they are able to “really touch people’s lives in ways that governments can’t do… politicians can’t do”.
In a stirring acceptance speech for the Laureus Team of the Year Award at the Verti Music Hall in Berlin on Monday night, the 28-year-old looked back on one of the most memorable triumphs in rugby and sporting history as he led his team to Rugby World Cup glory in Japan last November.
The Boks’ 32-12 victory over England in Yokohama led to an outpouring of joy on Mzansi’s streets, with a five-day trophy tour around the country seeing the public coming out in droves to catch a glimpse of their heroes.
South Africans still remember those moments with great fondness three months later, and that played a big part in the Boks winning the Laureus award on Monday ahead of Liverpool FC, the Mercedes Formula One team, the US women’s football team and the Spanish men’s basketball team.
“We all have different challenges, but because of the game that we love, which is rugby, we came together because we had one goal – we fought so hard for each other because our country at the time is going through such a difficult period,” Kolisi said.
“We had gender-based violence; we had xenophobia. Our main goal was to come together and make sure that we do the best that we can in the sport that we love.
“We gained everything that we can, and didn’t only see South Africa come together when we brought back the trophy – we inspired a lot of kids to live their dreams.
“Now, a kid from a township who can’t afford school shoes, who walks to school and who doesn’t eat every single day, can stand here and be a Rugby World Cup-winning captain.
“Some guys from the farm can become Springbok coaches; Cheslin Kolbe has a beautiful story as well – he’s been told that he can’t make it so many times, and he fought against that. And now he is one of the best players in the world.
The people’s champion @SiyaKolisi_Bear 🙌
A special and moving speech from the incredible World Team of the Year @Springboks‘ captain 🇿🇦
"We really touch lives in the way governments and politicians can’t do."
— Laureus (@LaureusSport) February 17, 2020
“Francois Louw, who comes from a rich rugby family who love rugby: he had to fight through all of that to write his own path. Now he’s made it to here and inspired so many other people.”
In a press conference later in the evening, Kolisi said one of the main goals listed by coach Rassie Erasmus was to regain the respect of the people following a difficult few years on the pitch, where they had lost by record scores to the likes of New Zealand and Ireland.
“The amount of work that we had to do, and the belief that we had to have and the buy-in from the Coach Rassie’s plan – and the management team and Jacques (Nienaber) and all the guys – they came up with a lot of ideas and we definitely had to buy into it and work as hard as we could,” he said.
“It didn’t only change our mindset, but the mindset of the people in South Africa, because in the year before, nobody came to watch us. And Coach Rassie’s first thing was that we had to earn the respect of the people, and that’s what we had to do.
“And that is when people started to get excited about rugby, which is really a tough sport – you’ve got to have a strong backbone to play rugby in South Africa because it has so much history. We’ve really enjoyed every single part of it.”
Having been a bit shy in previous years when speaking publicly, Kolisi displayed his own personal growth by not holding back on what sportspeople can do to inspire the youth, despite being in a room filled with legends such as Lewis Hamilton – who was the joint Laureus Sportsman of the Year alongside Lionel Messi – Sachin Tendulkar, Steve Waugh and Michael Johnson.
“And just one last message, to say to all the sportsmen: Just keep on doing what you are doing, because it’s not just about you. There are people looking at you, and we really touch people’s lives in ways that governments can’t do… politicians can’t do,” the loose forward said.
“You can touch and change a kid’s life. You don’t even have to know who he is or where he is from – but he looks at you and says ‘One day, I want to be like that’. Thank you so much everybody, enjoy the rest of your night.”