Emulating the Mandela theory

The South African national rugby team captained by François Pienaa helped President Nelson Mandela achieve a degree of post-apartheid racial unity through the underdog team's victory in the 1995 Rugby World Cup in Johannesburg.

Released After 27 years in jail, Mandela , subsequently elected President of South Africa had as his immediate challenge to "balance black aspirations with white fears", as racial tensions from the apartheid era had not completely disappeared. He attended a game of the Springboks, the country's rugby union team. Mandela recognized that the blacks in the stadium cheer against their home squad, as the Springboks represent prejudice and apartheid in their minds. Mandela the newly formed -black-dominated South African Sports Committee to support the Springboks. He then met with the captain of the Springboks rugby team, François Pienaar, and implied that a Springboks victory in the World Cup will unite and inspire the nation.

Pienaar and his teammates train for this. Many South Africans, both white and black, doubt that rugby will unite a torn apart nation. For many non-whites, especially the radicals, the Springboks symbolized white supremacy. However, both Mandela and Pienaar stood firmly behind their theory that the game can successfully unite the country.

Nelson Mandela with François Pienaar

Things improved as the players interacted with the locals. During the opening games, support for the Springboks grew among the non-white population. By the second game, citizens of all races attended to support the Springboks and Mandela's efforts. The Springboks surpassed all expectations and qualify for the final match against New Zealand All Blacks—the most successful rugby team in the world . Prior to the game, the Springbok team visits Robben Island, where Mandela spent 27 years in jail. Pienaar mentions his amazement that Mandela "could spend thirty years in a tiny cell, and come out ready to forgive the people who put him there".

Supported by a large home crowd of both whites and blacks, Pienaar motivated his team. The Springboks win the match 15 -12 on a last-minute long drop-kick from the fly-half. Mandela and Pienaar meet on the field together to celebrate the improbable and unexpected victory. Mandela’s drove through the traffic-jammed streets leaving the stadium watching the South Africans celebrating together . That is History which attracted Clint Eastwood to direct the film “Invictus” presenting the fuller aspect of that famous victory.Last week in Sri Lanka there was the good, bad as well as the ugly side of rugby. The bad as people don’t see the good side of the game and what it can do than divide further. The good was teams and those who guide them taking the spirit of the game to foster camaraderie: building a rapport that will be a lasting friendship.

The efforts of the two principals AAC Perera and Brigadier Aryaratne was a step in the right direction. Perera talked about the discipline on the field as well the maintenance of the physical presentation off the boys of both schools which will portray the image that the many young players will form in their minds with rugby being a key corner stone of both schools.

Aryaratne decorated his thoughts when he spoke to me about the need to build on the on field rivalry to lasting friendship. It was in the sense that the opportunity for players to get to know each other was important. He opined that friendship build among fifty rugby players will contribute to peace and harmony. Rugby being an important event in the calendar of both schools the young look up to the seniors with awe. The message will spread to others in the school the community and the country. Peace and harmony can start form a small group and build upon than trying to bring it down from the top. Aryaratne may not be Mandela but then his intentions are Mandela like and he is trying.

Another action of goodwill and spirit in respecting the opponents as rugby expects was seen by D.S. Senanayake MV. Having lost to Peters by a big margin they were still intent on looking after the visitors. They boys were provided with a healthy snack after the match which was a good gesture. The players have spent a lot of energy on the field and have the need for healthy meal within a reasonable time. Waiting till you go home may be a little too late. DSS had thought about it and not only looked after their players but the opposition too. Looking after the opposition was supervised by the Master-In-Charge Sanath Ileperuma himself and he seem to be very happy in doing that little more that makes the difference.

I cannot say the same thing about the two matches played during the weekend and midweek in Kandy. The crowds were so partisan as well as boisterous where one wondered whether they were cheering the bulls in a bullfighting ring .This is something that needs to be looked at and also the schools involved need to get the officials on the playing area to set the example. The question is who will take the bull by the horn when it appears that there are many with horns on their head.

Vimal Perera is a former Rugby Referee, coach and Accredited Referees Evaluator IRB

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