John Robbie has written his final column for the Saturday Star. Photo: @John_C_Robbie via Twitter

Dear Reader

Eighteen years ago, from out of the blue I received a telephone call from the first woman editor of the Saturday Star, Paula Fray.

She requested a meeting and it took place soon afterwards.

Paula asked me to write a weekly column for the paper on rugby. I said I was interested, but would rather broaden the scope to include all sport. The subject choice each week would be mine and mine alone.

This was discussed and agreed upon. No contract was signed, but handshakes and, I think, kisses were exchanged. It was a deal.

The first column appeared in this newspaper on September 18, 1999. It described a then-recent chance meeting I had enjoyed with the great Danie Gerber in which he revealed how he beat rugby defences from set-play, at will.

His secret was ridiculously simple and yet simply brilliant. His thinking is just as relevant, or even more so, today, by the way. I dug it out and re-read it.

Since then, this column – now entitled Of Cabbages and Kings in reference to the conversation between the Walrus and the Carpenter in Alice in Wonderland – has endured.

Only four times has it not appeared on schedule – three due to technical issues and once when I forgot, being in the Kruger Park and having enjoyed, shall it be called, a long lunch. Mea culpa.

As a rule, deliberate or contrived controversy was avoided, and rather the emphasis was on performance and objective comment and, where possible, optimism.

At times, however, strong views and criticism were given. It was always genuine feelings and never contrived.

Recently, I received a “Dear John” mail from the paper, and so today is the final column.

There is disappointment, but no anger on my part as all good things come to an end and business decisions are taken in the interest of the business. No hard feelings at all – rather amazement at how quickly the time has gone.

Many thanks, Saturday Star, for the incredible platform.

Sport is a massive part of my life and the life of this country. We enjoy huge advantages over much of the world. 

We have great weather, wonderful facilities, tradition, genetic advantages for many sports, and we also have an embattled but huge economy that well understands the benefit of supporting sport via sponsorship.

We achieve good success in a wide number of fields, but given our advantages, we are massive under-achievers. Let this be understood and digested.

With the exception of one ICC event, we have never won a major cricket title. Our soccer sides have under-achieved regularly in both world and continental arenas. 

Rugby has two World Cup titles, yes, but we should be up there, equal or better than the All Blacks. No doubt about it.

Boxing is a massive part of life in SA, and yet we scramble. It’s the same in swimming and tennis. Look at our advantages.

Hockey is perhaps the biggest victim in our sport, and both men and women have to battle our Olympic administrators as well as their opponents on the field.

Basketball and netball seem to be on the up but we have a way to go in both. Motorsport, of course, battles with the exchange rate, and international success is welcome but rare.

Many others have potential, but battle with funding.

Golf is perhaps the one where we do over-achieve and that is worthy of study. Is the individual nature of it and the independence of clubs a feature?

We need a Codesa of sport. We need sporting codes, government, education and business to agree on responsibilities and boundaries and funding and make it work. 

Transformation is not some type of charity, but the realisation of the potential that lies in the country.

As in so many areas of life, in sport, we should be doing so much better. Remember, it is a massive employer, a source of health and fitness, and more than these, a source of inspiration for millions.

May our sporting columns in future reflect improvement and success rather than disappointment.

Thanks for reading. Apologies for any offence caused. It was not intended. I will continue the column in some form. Please follow me on Twitter for news.

Regards and best wishes

* John Robbie is a former British and Irish Lions, Ireland and Transvaal scrumhalf.


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