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World Cup tough sell to Afrikaners

World Cup tough sell to Afrikaners

In the first few months after apartheid finally ended, a single sporting event in 1995 turned a nation of football fans into rugby followers and helped begin a movement of atonement.
Wearing a Springboks jersey, Nelson Mandela's presentation of the rugby World Cup trophy to South Africa on home soil was a defining moment for a country barely removed from its segregated past, with Mandela's gesture accelerating racial reconciliation in a country that had been divided since 1948.
And while South Africa is counting on next year's World Cup to leave a legacy of better transport infrastructure, jobs and security, it is also hoping to draw non-football fans to a predominantly black sport, including the Afrikaners _ a minority power that ruled the country for 46 years and never showed much interest in it before.
"Traditionally, rugby was seen as Afrikaner sport," said Willie Spies, the shadow minister for sport from the Freedom Front, an Afrikaner party. "Football was nonexistent in the Afrikaans community. The perception was that soccer was a sport played by Englishmen and black South Africans. But that is changing."
Fans were given a taste of what's to come in 2010 with the Confederations Cup, which ended Sunday. But is it enough to win over this tiny minority labeled "the white tribe of Africa?"
"You saw a lot of new faces at the stadium, obviously they were attracted by the fact that Spain was playing," South Africa player Matthew Booth said. "(Football) is the country's No. 1 sport and generally it is embraced by many cultures, many races, but of course many groups stick to specific sports."
Afrikaans _ Boer descendants of Dutch, German and French settlers _ always bucked authority, trekking inland to escape British dominion over 170 years ago to set up their own farms, with many settling here in the Free State. That reclusive streak remains today.
But suddenly, this clan that makes up only 5 percent of the country's 50 million population has found itself on the other side of the fence _ marginalized.
"There's a growing class of poorer Afrikaners as a result of the affirmative action policies of the government," said Spies, who added that Afrikaner unemployment is up to 15 percent after being zero during the apartheid years. "You'd be surprised to see how many white squatter camps there are around the country."
The conservative Freedom Front has a mandate to preserve the identity of the Afrikaner while working with the current government. But it can't sell everyone on the idea.
"There's a care now, but when this ends, no one will give football a second thought," said Celeste Van der Westhuizen, a hotel-owner in Bloemfontein, the capital of the Free State, a staunchly Afrikaans province where divides can still be felt. "For the Afrikaners here, if it's not cricket or rugby, it's not worth watching."
Many believe it's a question of time.
"South Africa is now in its teenage shoes and is going through tantrums," said 26-year-old Carien Brown, a local Afrikaans artist who runs Studio 65 gallery and admitted to little interest in football beforehand.
"We hope to grow out of these and find racial unity," Brown said. "It's happening slowly but surely and from where I'm sitting, it's a very positive position. And I'm positive that football will help this."
Booth, the only white starter on Bafana Bafana at the Confederations Cup, said he can only do so much to bring in new recruits, even with South Africans passionate about sport after being shut out of international competitions for so many years.
"My job is purely as a footballer, I can't choose for the people themselves what sport they want to follow," said Booth, who played in all five of Bafana Bafana's games, of which they won one. "If they want to spend their money watching football or cricket, that's their choice. Certainly I'd like to think that I've helped to bring some sort of publicity to the team, which would be nice."
Spies is confident that the World Cup can have a similar effect as that famous rugby victory in a society that is still fragmented by the scars of the past.
"Afrikaners will not switch from rugby to soccer, but I have no doubt that the interest in soccer will rocket after next year," Spies said. "It's great for the country, which needs communities to learn from each other, compete against each other and play. You shouldn't have to sacrifice your own identity to be part of the country."


Updated : 2021-05-07 01:27 GMT+08:00