Picture: Leon Lestrade / African News Agency (ANA)
Picture: Leon Lestrade / African News Agency (ANA)

Rugby cannot grow if the majority are denied exposure to Boks

By Mark Keohane Time of article published Sep 20, 2019

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TheSpringboks cannot continue to be exclusive to pay-per-view television. Something has to change in the future and the matches involving the Springboks have to be made available to the public on the national broadcaster.

The issue isn’t as simple as the SABC being dysfunctional and ineptly run as a business. It really isn’t about the SABC or SuperSport. It is about a country’s people having the choice to watch their national rugby team.

I’d have thought that the leadership at SuperSport and SABC could have found a way to give the greater South Africa the chance of living the 2019 Rugby World Cup with the Springboks.

Each day I’ve waited with hope, more than conviction, that common sense will trump the argument that business is business and SuperSport are within their rights to say no if they can’t agree favourable terms with the national broadcaster.

But each day it gets reinforced that there is no coverage on SABC television or radio and that a very small percentage of the country will watch the Springboks play in Japan.

The game of rugby cannot grow if the mass majority is denied exposure to the national team.

The South African Rugby Union’s marketing of the Springboks is big and the campaigns that tie in with the team sponsors are heartfelt, emotional, passionate and speak to the glory of being South African.

It should be a national government decision that World Cup matches involving South African national teams get aired on the national broadcaster, even if delayed.

A few years back this was the case and the viewership numbers were 10 times that of the live SuperSport audience. The inability for SuperSport and the SABC to find common ground this weekend has been extremely disappointing because of the significance of the Springboks’ opening game against the defending champion All Blacks.

The mood around the Springboks is positive and there is such confidence that the stars have aligned and this World Cup will be won by South Africa.

The squad is multicultural and speaks to all South Africans, but there is no stronger message than a visual one.

Please someone, somewhere do something and show the kind of leadership that allows for a decision to be made that brings the Springboks to life throughout South Africa in the next six weeks.

The build-up this week to the Springboks versus All Blacks has been massive. It’s felt like a World Cup final and a clash of two giants. Digital media, social media and print have purred at the mention of the Springboks and All Blacks.

There is such respect between the two sets of camps. Both coaches have an admiration for each other professionally and also as people. The two playing squads enjoy each other’s company and have both gone on record to say, win or lose, they’ll be sharing a drink and a chat in one changeroom afterwards.

World Rugby needs the Springboks and All Blacks rivalry to be at its most intense, just as the South African public needs Springbok matches to be accessible. Only then will there be sustainable growth of rugby in South Africa.

Keohane is the author of Chester: A Biography of Courage. He is also a regular contributor to Independent Media’s sports pages.

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