YOKOHAMA – Picture this - you get to lead your national team out onto rugby's biggest stage for the most-anticipated match of the pool stages and it just so happens to be against their age-old rivals. What could be better?
One lucky sports-loving girl didn't have to imagine it, she lived it.
For 14-year-old Raziyah Steyn, a simple SMS granted her the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of being the Springboks' official flag bearer for their World Cup opener against the All Blacks in Yokohama, Japan.
As worldwide partner of Rugby World Cup 2019, Emirates ran a competition that was open to South African boys and girls between the ages of 10 and 16, with the winner and their parent or guardian bagging return Economy Class tickets to Japan, three nights’ accommodation and two tickets to the blockbuster match.
Out of more than 8000 entries, the prize of course went to Raziyah, who was accompanied on her trip by her mother, Leila.
Four days in Tokyo - a city that was unmistakably taken by the Rugby World Cup, the first in Asia - consisting of the flag-bearer experience and everything else that came with it are sure to result in more than a handful of memorable moments.
For the Grade Eight learner from Partktown Girls' High School in Johannesburg, the experience naturally came with a range of emotions.
“I was of course very nervous, but I was very excited as well. I was more excited,” Raziyah said after her big moment.
“When I was standing there and they first handed me the flag I was shaking, then when I walked out and I saw all those people, that was the standout moment for me.”
It's not hard to understand why that was a standout moment. How could walking out with your national heroes in front of a crowd of just over 63 000 not be?
Raziyah, though, had no trouble handling what she referred to as a nerve-wracking experience, shaking or not.
One thing that helped her with the jitters, according to the Under-14 A Parktown hockey and soccer player, was a gesture from Bok captain Siya Kolisi, who blew her a kiss in the tunnel before they headed out.
“OK, I can do this,” Raziyah then assured herself.
And that was enough.
Would she have handled it without Kolisi's kind expression? Most likely. But there's no doubt that it certainly made it an even more special day for her. And when she ran down to the railing after the final whistle went, she was met with another one from the Bok skipper, and this time Damian de Allende sent a kiss her way as well.
“When that happened I was like 'OK, just breath',” she said when sharing her thoughts during the interview.
While what the Springbok duo did for Raziyah was special, she did something pretty amazing herself building up to her departure.
“I'm not just going to the World Cup as Raziyah Steyn, I'm going as every woman and girl of South Africa,” she said while on Robert Marawa's show.
On her armband on the big day she sported #I'mNotNext, #RIPUYINENE, #RIPJESS and #RIPNATASHA. Special.
What she did was special. And while Raziyah described her experience as a whole as one that couldn't be beaten by anything else anytime soon, what she did, what she represented, added to everything.
Towards the end of our sit-down, a shy, smiling Raziyah took the time to thank Emirates for the experience.
“I would like to thank Emirates for what they did for me. I really enjoyed how they treated us, everybody was very friendly.”
It certainly was a special occasion for the music lover and baking enthusiast. She was gifted an amazing opportunity and, better yet, she made it count by representing not only herself and her extremely proud mother, but every girl in South Africa, as she made clear. She tried to make it better.
And if that's not the perfect example of what sports is about, I don't know what it.