Sunday, November 16, 2003

Murray has already blogged quite extensively on the various problems facing the Springbok rugby team, but I don't think that even he realised how bizarre some of the causes of their recent dismal performance may have been. Today's SA Sunday Times reveals details of a very peculiar pre-tournament training session in which players were made to, amongst other things, swim naked in freezing water (those who resisted being forced in at gunpoint) and leopard crawl, naked, across a gravel patch. This is pretty shocking but, to be honest, it should come as no surprise. Former Springbok communications manager, Mark Keohane's recent dossier on the Springbok squad revealed similar bizarre practices. For instance, Keohane says that it was common practice to give ill-disciplined players 'physical punishment', which usually involved making them exercise until they were sick. I should add, that this was not for players who were ill-disciplined on the field (this sort of behavior was apparently officially encouraged) but rather for those who failed to abide by what's best described as an 'honour code'.

I have a couple of thoughts on all this:

Firstly, it is absolutely amazing that professional sportsmen are still being treated like naughty children. I cannot even begin to imagine what would happen if somebody like David Beckham was ordered to undergo 'physical punishment' and there is no reason why the Springbok rugby squad should be any less professional than the England football team. These are grown up men playing in a professional sport not teenagers undergoing military training. They are entitled to be treated with the respect that accords their position and their adulthood.

Secondly, the fact that this sort of thing is condoned by senior management bespeaks volumes about the attitudes that still permeate the highest echelons of SA rugby. This crass, brutal method of training is part of an atmosphere and indeed an attitude which makes light of suffering and humiliation and, I dare say, racism. Yes, I don't think we can separate the two. I think that the person who feels that forcing people, at gunpoint, into freezing water makes for good training is probably also the sort of person who quietly condones racism in the squad. They both stem from the same archaic view of what constitutes acceptable adult behaviour.

Finally, I'm afraid that SA rugby still has leagues to go before it becomes truly professional. This is not high school (or the army), this is, frankly, a business and it doesn't surprise me in the least, therefore, that so many of our good players are leaving. That is what happens to business that are badly run, they lose their best staff.

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