Monday, March 09, 2009

Blue Bulls vs. Stormers

In case you are not totally into the South African sport-scene, we are talking rugby here. Yes, possibly the most important as well as popular, and at the same time the most controversial, sport in South Africa. In the least, rugby is one of the popular top four, alongside cricket, hockey, and soccer. 

Last Saturday the Blue Bulls from Pretoria beat the Stormers from Cape Town, and I and the hubby as well as a group of drunken people whom we like to call friends were there at Loftus Stadium to witness it. And I must say, as much as I knew I would be bothered by the extremely violent nature of the game, not to mention the racial issues surrounding this sport, in the end I'm glad that I decided to go. The game provided me with a rare glimpse into the Nation's soul.

So this is what went down: 

After my 10k race in the morning (bettered my time by 9 minutes, thank you very much!) I and the hubby headed out to finally pick up his car - a huge honkin' 4x4 gas guzzler that honestly makes me ashamed, but at the same time able to travel to places like Kruger National Park and Mozambique. Unfortunately, as you probably guessed, regardless of our deal to only drive the 4x4 if we really need to and otherwise make use of the 'practically runs on air' Daihatsu, the hubby decided to drive the new vehicle to our friends' house where we were meeting the rugby enthusiasts. I hope this does not become a trend.

After several minutes (possibly 30-40) spent ogling our new car (Where is the sensitive environmentalist I married?) we all packed into one, even more monstrous, SUV, and headed towards the stadium. This took place sometime before three in the afternoon and the game was set to start at five. I asked no questions, but decided to go with the flow (i.e. get a drink and yabber about irrelevant issues) and take in the experience.

As we got closer to the stadium, but were still at least 1,5 kilometers away we began to pass people in all shades of blue clothing sitting on camping chairs, drinking beer, and tending to something resembling a cast iron pan attached to a tank of gas. The latter turned out to be a skottel, which boils down to, once again, a form of braai. As you all must have understood by now meat is the perfect accessory to everything, and I do mean everything

Luckily, since we decided to arrive only some hours before the start of the game, one of our friends had scored himself a parking pass. We must have driven past hundreds of the impromptu sidewalk braais in more or less appropriate spots, as we drove all the way into the heart of the event. Thanks to the parking pass, we found a good spot not too far from the stadium and abracadabra, from the trunk of the car out came a skottel, some boerewors, beer, wine, sosaties, and rolls. We were set for our pre-rugby lunch - beer-fried boerie rolls enjoyed sitting on the fender of the car and drinking ice cold beer (or if you are me someone else's wine. Sorry W!).

The sun beat down, and I found myself wishing we had arrived in time to snag ourselves one of the prime spots underneath the trees. After all, I was wearing my nigh only piece of blue clothing - a cardigan. However, I was quickly informed that if I wanted shade I would have to have arrived not some hours before, but hours before. Apparently a rugby game can easily be made into an entire-day happening, starting at dawn and stretching all the way into the wee hours of the next morning. Never say South Africans don't know how to party.   

After the quick (in relative braai terms) bite, we were ready to head towards the stadium (at this time we were also equipped with energizer drinks secretly mixed with vodka, see my previous comment on partying). We found our seats, luckily on the shady side and began to soak in the atmosphere. The stadium was sold out and pretty much all in blue. Even the one Stormers fan in our bunch had not dared to wear his team colors. There was electricity (and beer fumes) in the air. 

After a short (thank Zeus) stripper act that officially went under the banner of cheerleading the game started. Now, I've never even pretended to understand rugby, and can honestly say I am now even more confused. The game wasn't nearly as physical as I had feared, and a lot more kicking of the ball (is it called that?) was involved than I had expected. The Blue Bulls won. How? I don't know. Something they call a try took place a couple of times and both teams accumulated points. What I do know is that the players wore nice uniforms, had good muscular legs, and both teams combined only two of the players were older than I am, which made me feel very old, and sip the berry flavored vodkaizer at an increasing pace. 

During the game, I also participated in the Mexican wave, which was a lot of fun, but not the booing chorus that erupted every time Stormers number 8 had the ball. Luke Watson is called 'Puke', and widely hated amongst South African rugby fans. This hatred is due to a comment he allegedly made regarding the emblem of the South African national team 'The Springboks'. On being picked for the national team he supposedly had said he had a hard time not vomiting on the jersey. Now, as harsh and unwarranted as this may seem, the comment should be decoded through the current debate raging around the symbol of the national team, as well as the past (and quietly also the present) of rugby as a 'whites-only' sport. 

The symbol of the South African national teams during the apartheid era was the springbok. Understandably enough, alongside the renaming of towns and streets and such to reflect the rainbow nation as opposed to retaining reminders of the horrors of apartheid, the symbol and the name of the teams were to be changed from the bok to a protea. In the case of rugby, due to massive resistance, especially from the Afrikaner population, this didn't quite work out at the time. Mandela put a lid on the discussion, but now the demand and the debate have resurfaced. 

This is just my two cents, but looking at the crowd, the players, and hearing the two Bulls fans two rows in front of us belt out the old national anthem (i.e. the apartheid nation's anthem) at the top of their voices does not ensure me I am looking at a good representation of the New South Africa. 

Still, I  did have fun and I enjoyed the experience, but like so many times before in South Africa, I was forced to realize that the nation is still in major transition, and old habits die hard. It is as if the nation is a fifteen year old moody teenager, who goes from being an angel to a complete devil in less than two seconds and even without no one completely realizing the change until it is too late, and the affected bystander is left with no other option than to thank Zeus for wine and being able to buy plenty of it. 

Growing up is hard to do.   


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