Why is it that men only show intimacy and have the freedom to be effeminate and affectionate with each other at sporting events?

With the HSBC Cape Town Sevens now done and dusted, Fiji crowned champions and the Blitzbokke being placed third, everyone will remember the thrilling rugby, along with the fun costumes on display at the sporting event. 

However, while in attendance at the event, something would repeatedly catch my eye - men being unashamedly intimate with each other.

For clarification, I don't mean intimate as in romantically intimate, but rather a candid and platonic intimacy that men often don't express with each other. 

It was the level of care-free affection men would show each other, alongside the blatant display of femininity without the slightest care of what others thought, that was remarkable to witness at the HSBC Cape Town Sevens. 

Men were dressed in outfits that are stereotypically labelled as queer and effeminate, but did so with such confidence that it was jarring to experience because in any other situation, these men would have been mocked and gawked at. 

It could be this important distinction that makes all the difference - the fact that it was a sporting event.

Two men are seen embracing each other in a stadium full of 55 000 people attending the HSBC Cape Town Sevens.
It was the level of care-free affection men would show each other, alongside the blatant display of feminity without the slightest care of what others thought, that was remarkable to witness at the HSBC Cape Town Sevens. Picture: Theolin Tembo/Cape Argus
Men were dressed in skirts, in dresses, in tutus, wearing make-up, and rompers, and bathrobes all because they wanted to. Picture: Theolin Tembo/Cape Argus

Sports has always been seen as the pinnacle of male masculinity, especially rugby. Rugby in our country is seen as man's sports, and not something that 'sissies' or queers would play. It's this very idea that the sport is so hypermasculine and that only 'real men' play it, which continues to perpetuate this notion that there are no gay men in rugby. 

While this is a topic for another day, it can't really be that much of struggle to even fathom that some of the men playing the sport may actually be gay. One of the rugby referees well-known to South Africa viewers, Nigel Owens, has previously come out but many don't know about it. 

It's this very idea of rugby being hypermasculine that made the level of affection on show in that environment so surprising. It is entirely possible that the men are not even aware of just how affectionate they are being with each other. They may also have been intoxicated, but if this is the case, it speaks to a greater problem of how men then use alcohol to express platonic male affection.

Two young adults are seen hugging each other in a stadium full of 55 000 people attending the HSBC Cape Town Sevens.
Why is it that men only show intimacy and have the freedom to be effeminate and affectionate with each other at sporting events? Picture: Theolin Tembo/Cape Argus
Why is it that men only show intimacy and have the freedom to be effeminate and affectionate with each other at sporting events? Picture: Theolin Tembo/Cape Argus

The same notion applies to men displaying their feminity at the Cape Town Sevens.

Men were dressed in skirts, in dresses, in tutus, wearing make-up, and rompers, and bathrobes all because they wanted to. They could so without fear of being harassed and attacked, and everyone was enjoying themselves.

No one batted an eyelid.

More so, there was more man-on-man hugging and kissing going on than what is typically seen in day-to-day life. Cheeks were being caressed, heads were being nestled next to each other, men were playing with each other's hair, and some of these instances involved some light roughhousing.

A funny moment that ended up unintentionally sweet was the kiss/dance cam. A trio of men were hugging each other watching the screen, and when the camera settled on them, one turned to his male friend and smooched him. It was comedic because the kiss resulted in them falling over, and had the one man being left off balance after they have stood up. 

While this was obviously done in jest, it is impossible to miss how much of an impact that moment had on someone younger who might have been in the crowd and seen the two men being affectionate with one other. The kiss may have been platonic, but that doesn't diminish its impact and significance.

It's a regular conversation that occurs after every sporting events between myself and a group of peers: why is it that men only show intimacy and have the freedom to be effeminate and affectionate with each other at these events?

Three guys are dressed as bare-chested brides with veils and tutus.
Men were dressed in skirts, in dresses, in tutus, wearing make-up, and rompers, and bathrobes all because they wanted to. Picture: Theolin Tembo/Cape Argus
Two men are seen wearing pink and blue tutus while having fairy wings attached to their bare torso.
Men were dressed in skirts, in dresses, in tutus, wearing make-up, and rompers, and bathrobes all because they wanted to. Picture: Theolin Tembo/Cape Argus

Is it because everyone assumes they're straight and that this then gives them the benefit of not worrying about their sexuality being questioned because of the environment? If this is the case, it is quite sad then that the only way men can express affection between one another is at sporting events, and that says something truly disturbing about the society we live in.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to assume that the homophobia, and the fear of being labelled gay is so huge among straight men that they go to extreme lengths to preserve every drop of masculinity possible, but it does make one wonder just how much safer and freeing the world would be if this was something men didn't care so much about.

It would be very naive to assume that anything will change and that men will learn to be tender with each other, without the need to defend their sexuality and masculinity. If a change does occur it will only be in generations to come. Men are still too caught up in the idea of sensitivity and tenderness being a sign of weakness.

So until the next sporting event let us men continue to greet each other with handshakes and nods, because that's apparently all we have the capacity for.

It was the level of care-free affection men would show each other, alongside the blatant display of feminity without the slightest care of what others thought, that was remarkable to witness at the HSBC Cape Town Sevens. Picture: Theolin Tembo/Cape Argus

* Theolin Tembo is a content producer for the Cape Argus. He writes in his own capacity.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus