We’re all in need of a sense of upliftment after the outrage of the current series against Australia; a grubby affair pock-marked by spite, finger-pointing and rancour, damage that won’t be easily repaired.
Succour (of a sort) came by way of New Zealand this week with the announcement that a road in South Auckland is to be named after the late Jonah Lomu, barely metres from where he learned to play rugby as a schoolboy.
It’s a grand gesture, but, as so often the case, made after Lomu shuffled off this mortal coil. Jerry Collins, another great All Black, had a stadium in Porirua named after him in 2016. He, too, wasn’t alive to celebrate the honour. Better late than never, though.
In Australia, they’ve got it right. The stadium in Canberra named a stand for each of Stephen Larkham and George Gregan shortly after their retirement. Given their service for the Brumbies over the years, it’s a fitting tribute to two of the game’s most resplendent stars.
The US Open is played in New York’s Arthur Ashe Stadium, which forms part of the larger Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre. Given how much this American pair dedicated themselves to tennis, it is a fitting accolade that modern players have a constant reminder of their pre-eminence, not least given their role as pioneers.
The situation is much different in South Africa where politics bogs us down with its sad, persistent self-aggrandisement. Whole roads, suburbs, stadiums and hospitals are named after political figures, even when so few have redeeming qualities. In their strange obsession for boot-licking – both pre- and post-apartheid – our city fathers have opted to honour political grandees rather than real heroes like teachers, doctors or indeed sporting figures, people who unite rather than divide.
It is these people who raise hopes and make a difference, who inspire youngsters and sometimes even change lives.
There will never be a statue to Hansie Cronje, Lance Armstrong or Steve Smith, and nor should there be, but it’s an opportunity lost not to honour giants of sport like Caster Semenya (who has a claim to being SA’s greatest ever sportswoman), Allan Donald, Bryan Habana, Gary Player, Jomo Sono and Vuyani Bungu.
If you consider how Semenya has become a trailblazer in both a social and sporting context, or how Sono thrived amid the apartheid years, a hero to tens of thousands of black youngsters, it beggars belief that the only public entity that carries his name is his own soccer team, Jomo Cosmos.
There are rare exceptions across the local sport landscape. Just down the road, in Clermont, is the Sugar Ray Xulu Stadium, named in honour of the legendary AmaZulu player of the 1960s. Bravo!
Bloemfontein Celtic founder Dr Petrus Molemela also has a stadium named after him, a fitting homage to a man who gave his all to his beloved Siwelele. Not forgetting the Lucas “Masterpieces” Moripe Stadium in Atteridgeville.
There’s the Jacques Kallis Oval at Wynberg Boys High and, similarly, the main field at Jeppe Boys is known as the Jake White Field. The World Cup-winning coach himself is at his alma mater this weekend watching an under-16 tournament being played in his name.
These are concrete acknowledgements, but you wonder why they are exceptions when the competition is so ordinary. It’s rare that someone gets considered while in their pomp, especially as an entire body of work must be assessed and a career ought to be scandal-free, but I could think of dozens of sport heroes whose excellence outranks many of the political grandees who hardly deserve the honour of having a street or building named after them. Political winds change too, so consequently the awful names bequeathed to us by the old National Party are insulting.
There are obvious exceptions for statesmen like Nelson Mandela, but sadly the panjandrums who run our cities work off a very low base seeking political rather than public approval.
Meanwhile, the real heroes walk quietly among us. Our heartfelt applause sustains them.