Looking back at a triumphant Rugby World Cup in Japan
As articulated by Captain Siya Kolisi, Springboks from the country of Nelson Mandela, it sent a great message to the world that unity, accompanied with a positive spirit and extensive effort can make you stronger and achieve almost anything. It gives hope to children in poverty, and people in adversity.
The proud victory of the Springboks as well as the six weeks of the Rugby World Cup in Japan have also brought two nations, South Africans and Japanese, closer than ever before, with deep mutual respect and affinity. The power of sports is often far greater than efforts by governments.
Japanese fans practised the South African National Anthem and Springboks players learnt to bow deeply to show respect to supporters.
The gentleman-like attitude shown to ball girls at the pitch as well as the apology extended at the locker room after rough plays were all noted with respect by Japanese fans.
And it has been wonderful to know that the well over 10 000 South Africans who visited Japan for the Rugby World Cup had opportunities of experiencing a variety of aspects of Japanese culture and made interactions with Japanese people.
After the final, the streets in Yokohama were filled with people from around the world engaging with and congratulating South Africans proudly wearing green and gold, singing and celebrating the victory.
With the Springboks becoming the champions, I hope each one of the 10 000 South Africans who visited Japan have a special fond memory. It was our turn to welcome South Africans and we are happy that the response of visitors has been overwhelming.
It was my honour to have once again served as liaison officer for President Cyril Ramaphosa, who visited Yokohama to preside over the final. This was the third visit by the president to Japan this year after attending the G20 Summit (June) as well as Ticad 7 (August) in the special year, dawn of a new era of Japan.
I was privileged to have witnessed the words of encouragement by President Ramaphosa to the Springbok players a few hours before the final. This had a magical power that ignited great performances.
“You have put South Africa on the map of the world. Take this special moment that you will probably not experience again.
“And play the best of your rugby you will never forget in your life. That is all I want. Remember that you are warriors with all South Africans behind you.”
The Boks listened to the words solemnly and I could see their performances from the outset were different. They exerted everything into the match, no hesitation, no mediocrity and no compromise. It was so apparent when they showed absolute commitment to save the defence line against repeated attacks by England.
The impact is far-reaching. Each and every investor at the 2nd SA Investment Conference made reference to the victory of the Springboks, definitely contributing to a positive investment climate for South Africa.
Rugby as a world sport has also advanced in this World Cup. It was hosted for the first time outside of traditional rugby countries. South Africa is one country that embraced emerging countries like Japan. Without South Africa, Japanese rugby would have never progressed to this point in the short period of time.
Who could have ever imagined that Japan could beat Ireland as well as Scotland to become a contender against the Springboks in the quarter-final? And it was not only a fairytale, but the quarter-final was a quality rugby match. In my view, Japan played with great confidence in their style of stoic speed rugby.
But after the defeat, Shota Horie, Brave Blossoms hooker known for his frank opinion, admitted: “The level of Springboks was totally different, not comparable to Ireland and Scotland. Despite that, this time we made them serious and at least winning one scrum made us confident.” Japan has been learning from countries like South Africa and re-paid the sense of indebtedness by showing their progress.
The Japanese Community and the Consulate in Cape Town have promoted the World Cup by hosting the Rugby-themed Japan Day, facilitating Sunwolves/Stormers interactions and taking part in the Cape Times Breakfast with late rugby legend Chester Williams. In Pretoria, the embassy hosted public viewings at all eight Springbok matches, which attracted 600 people.
In concluding, the win by the Springboks and the historical performance by the Brave Blossoms were not something we were able to arrange, but we are humbled by the outcome of the World Cup which exceeded far beyond our expectations with efficient organisation and a warm reception by the people of Japan.
Our 2019 World Cup dream was accomplished with the support of South Africans and all the participating countries around the world.
Sports has the power to change people and society. South Africans know this as demonstrated by themselves once again and inspired many people in South Africa and around the world as a great rugby nation.
* Naito is the Consul of Japan in Cape Town