Springbok assistant coach Brendan Venter instructs the players during a training session. Photo: Kim Ludbrook/EPA
First things first. Brendan Venter must be commended for signing up to Twitter and better still, using the social media service to propagate his views, sharp as they may be.

It shows a bloke who is modern, progressive and keen to be heard. More’s the pity his colleagues haven’t done the same. Few of the leading coaches, bar Gary Gold and Paul Treu, regularly use the medium, preferring the refuge of the traditionally mind-numbing press conference.

Venter has been in the news because of a particular tweet in the aftermath of last weekend’s match against Australia: “If winning is all you see. Stop watching. Boys deserve respect not criticism”.

He took stick for his comments with some sensitive souls blasting the message.

I say we should have more of it. A coach sticking his neck out and saying what he really feels is refreshing, especially in a sports environment like ours where clichés abound. No-one seems to go off-message any more. Indeed, even the All Blacks’ constant praise of the Springboks has the feel of treacle, especially with the evidence so at odds with the sentiment.

Besides, Venter has earned the right to be heard. He’s worn the green and gold. He knows what’s at stake and what must be said.

He’s habitually blocked followers who trash him online. Otherwise known as trolls, these are the keyboard warriors who wouldn’t have the guts to front up to Venter in public. These people are all over social media, safe in the knowledge that their targets can’t confront them while they’re closeted away in their offices and bedrooms.

Twitter might be the “digital water cooler” of the modern age, but it’s a paradox; it’s a social network that requires no social skills.

Some consider Venter to be over-sensitive but he’s never suffered fools gladly. He will happily engage with someone who makes his point elegantly, even if it is at sharp odds to his own. But the moment it becomes sophistry or gets abusive, he’s done. As it should be.

Check out his “non-interview” in 2010 with Martin Gillingham on YouTube - it fast became an Internet hit - that was directed at the suits who fined him 25 000 euros for what he considered an honest opinion.

He’s happy to thrash out a point but best get your ducks in a row. As with Nick Mallett and Jake White, he’ll cut you to pieces if you proffer a lame argument.

The golden rule of Twitter is: “Don’t feed the trolls.”

Venter is also embedded in the team, as he reminded people in another tweet over the weekend. “I engage the fans for 1 reason only. I am currently on inside. I see the effort and improvement. Maybe not good enough yet but there is hope.

"When i decided to engage with the followers on twitter i automatically rocked the boat. I dont mind sharing my opinions but then respect them”.

Coach Allister Coetzee’s response was curious. He pointed out that he wasn’t on Twitter - he has a parody account, as does Peter de Villiers - and he was certain that Venter’s views had been misunderstood.

Mind you, this is one of the failures of the medium. There is little room for nuance and context, which can be a problem for those who don’t get irony or straight talking. And there are many.

As Venter will doubtless discover, social media can be both distracting and time-consuming. The real measure of his dedication will be to see if he’s still there in a year. Many sportsmen have been hounded off social media or discouraged by their bosses, which is a pity.

The one thing absent from the local sporting landscape is open and public debate. There’s so much to be said, so much to be thrashed out, but the nannying of sport bosses and the whining of supporters discourages open and honest talk.

Venter offers a rare view into the Bok dressing room. We might not like what he says but how refreshing to get a non-PC opinion. Bring it on, I say, and ignore the Monday morning quarterbacks who’d struggle to argue their way out of a wet paper bag.


Sunday Tribune

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