How do you get into rugby

"Rugby Egg or Soccer?" South Africa's national sport

It borders on a miracle that the players who have gathered for training, like every Tuesday evening, do not injure themselves during the practice sessions. Cheered on by the fitness coach, they keep running against the heavy mats to practice the tackle that is crucial in rugby.

But an injury could also come from the training ground. It's a better field and now, at 7 p.m., almost unlit. Fortunately, the soccer field next door donates some floodlights, they don't have their own system at the Soweto Rugby Club.

The "white" national sport of rugby is slowly turning "black"

There have long been golf courses in the former black ghetto Soweto, and soccer fields are in abundance anyway. A black rugby club, on the other hand, is still a novelty. The financial resources are correspondingly weak, with the large sponsors supporting either black football or white rugby. But the continued political marginalization is even worse. "So far there has been no change, and I have no idea when it will come," complains Zola Ntlokona, the manager of the Soweto Rugby Club. "When you come to an executive office in this country as a black man to talk about inequalities in rugby, you get the feeling that we are still living under apartheid."

How black is the rainbow

It has now been fifteen years since apartheid was officially buried and the "rainbow nation" was proclaimed. It was also fifteen years that the "Springboks", the South Africans 'practically all-white rugby team, won the World Cup and Nelson Mandela demonstratively pulled on the goats' jersey to initiate the reconciliation of black and white.

Shield from apartheid 1976

"Yes, it is changing, but not as quickly as we would like it to," stated Zandi Mathlati, one of the up-and-coming talents of the Soweto rugby club. "We will not see any black national players as long as the associations do not promote black youth development. There are only ten black members in our umbrella organization. It is ridiculous to suddenly expect blacks in the national team." Manager Zola Ntlokona is even clearer: "We like to say that there is democracy and rugby contributes to the unity of this country. But that is simply not true."

Still "white sport"?

Like many of his teammates, Zandi Mathlati can refer to a rugby family history, because playing with the oval leather egg is by no means a purely white domain: At the beginning of the 20th century, black migrant workers brought the sport together with their workers to the mine belt around Johannesburg, before long there were a dozen black clubs. Only the apartheid laws and political violence in the early 1990s put an end to the enthusiasm.

They are proud of their club

Nevertheless, rugby and cricket are still considered a white sport, so the comments are accordingly when Zandi, unlike his friends, puts on rugby and not football boots. "I get raised a lot, but luckily my family stands by me," he says.

Rugby career despite racist scandals

Gaining acceptance from friends and family is all the more difficult for Zandi and the other players as the white rugby scene is still shaken by scandals. In 2008 the association president had to admit that the stadiums were teeming with "racists". Previously, a black visitor to Johannesburg was badly abused by a group of white spectators. The Springbok coach had to resign because he had used the terrible insult "Kaffir". And in 2007, when the World Cup was won again, only two of the 15 regular players were colored.

Nevertheless, ten-year-old Xolani came to training for the first time today. "I like rugby. You won't get very far in football, but you can have a real career with rugby," he says, ignoring the football players on the nearby Bolzplatt.

Author: Ludger Schadomsky

Editor: Klaudia Pape