Cannot separate sport, politics and national psyche

The fragile expanse
The fragile expanse

The early morning sunrise in the Kruger National Park reflects the beautiful, yet fragile natural expanse of our environment. Fragile, since there is always the threat that man may intervene and disrupt the natural inter-connective harmony that underpins all of the relationships that exist in the healthy, balanced ecosystem.

World cup sporting competitions are the center stage where a country can reveal its team on the field of play. It also reveals the national psyche of the country and the degree of political interference that exists in the sporting system. Just recently, there has been the controversy of the drug scandal in Russia where most of the athletes are accused of using performance enhancing drugs in an organised way with the knowledge and support of the Russian authorities.

On a national level, a sporting team will reflect the nature of the society that it is embedded in. The nature and quality of the performance of a national sporting team can be used as a barometer of the overall emotional and energetic state of the country that it is representing.

Over the past year, the performances of the South African cricket and rugby teams are of concern since they are reflecting a disintegration of standards and values that is busy unfolding in South Africa. The soccer team has been functioning below potential in an unorganised way for a number of years now and the cricket and rugby teams are following suit.

Our cricket team’s semi-final loss in the World Cup in March and their poor performance against Bangladesh (a team that has recently gained test match status) in July and now in India as they capitulate in the test series reflects that the quality of performance is on a slippery slope downwards.

The South African rugby team also showed worrying signs that all was not well when they lost every match in the rugby championship (to New Zealand, Australia and Argentina) and then to Japan in the first match in the world cup tournament. This came as a major shock to the rugby world, since the Japanese had previously only won one world cup match against Zimbabwe in 1991 in all of their previous world cup encounters. On an energetic level, the South African rugby team were lethargic during the match. There was little or no urgency and commitment. Despite the wealth of experience in the team, there seemed to be no leadership coming from the players on the field. The team did not appear to have a co-ordinated, integrated game plan. In contrast, the Japanese showed a resilience and confidence that comes from a highly focused team that had a unified vision.

There were obviously macro, as well as micro factors that may have played there part in causing the South African team to perform so poorly against Japan. On a micro level, was everyone on board and committed to the game plan? Given how the team played, serious questions needed to be asked about the leadership, both on and off the field. The team did not seem to have a clear strategy on the field. They did not appear to have a ’cause’ worth dying for. There seemed to be no ‘buy in’ to the game plan, if there was one. If anything, the team seemed depressed. Given the very low energetic state of the team, what may have sucked the energy out of the team?

On a macro level, there was so much controversy about the selection of the rugby team, with a small political party wanting a court order to be issued to bar the team from going to the world cup.

After the loss against Japan, the rugby coach Heyneke Meyer apologised to the nation, much in the same way as the cricket captain did after the team lost to New Zealand in the semi-final. These apologies reflect the huge amount of responsibility that these two leaders felt in wanting to ‘bring back the cup’ to the nation. From a psychological perspective, the cup is seen as something concrete to unify a nation that is in desperate need of a unified vision. Winning the cup could reveal that the team had triumphed against all the opposition and that we as South Africans, were the best in the world (despite the odds being stacked against us), which highlights a sense of entitlement.

Sport should unite, and bring hope to a nation. Sport offers a context where all young athletes can aspire to higher and higher levels of success. Team sports reflect dynamics such as cohesion, commitment, discipline and integrative energy. But these healthy dynamics will not emerge if there is constant political interference in the team processes, where a nation’s distorted psyche is projected onto its team and/or where a country is wrapped up in societal and political dynamics that have no unified vision due to poor and/or corrupt leadership.

In South Africa, sport is wrapped up in the political psyche of a country that has had historical trauma, and which continues to be divisive in its perspective of a vision going forward. The performance of the three sporting codes of soccer, rugby and cricket highlight the political and societal dynamics and issues that we are busy struggling with in the country.

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