Varsity Sport In SA Is Not Divorced From Student Resistance And Protests By Cheryl Roberts

23 Feb



The past year’s resistance and protests against structural inequalities and questionable teaching and research in higher education, linking student and workers struggles at South Africa’s educational institutions, have gone largely unsupported and assisted by organized sport in South Africa. Actually, not one statement has been released by organised sport in support of student struggles.

Society’s intersections and linkages have seemingly left sport unaffected, despite the deep-rooted inequalities which exist in South African sport. Sport as a reflection of society and sport’s social positioning in an unequal society also went untouched by the student resistance movement and protests. I don’t recall ever seeing any mention of campus/varsity sport having to be de-colonised. Why has sport left untouched?

Despite there being inequalities in sport on all of the higher education campuses with regards to funding of sport and participation in sport, the resistance and questioning of higher education’s accountability to society, was ignored. I often wondered about this and found the answer in the mercurial presentation of sport in neo-liberal South Africa as being ‘on its own’, as being ‘apolitical and non-political’.

Monday’s student protests at University of the Free State which spilled over onto the rugby field and its subsequent volatility and vicious assault of protesting students, indicates yet again how most SA’s in sport and sport consumers prefer to see sport as being divorced from society’s going on, as being separated from discourse, debate, accountability and most importantly, from resistance and protest action.

Privileged students obviously like those sorted out with university tuition payment and accommodation get into their sports clubs and events seemingly unperturbed and not hassled by grievances and protests of many other struggling students. For the privileged and sorted student, as long as they are playing sport, they are seemingly taken care of and are happy.

The rugby players and supporters of the rugby game at UOFS were reminiscent of South Africa’s apartheid rugby and white/racialised Springbok teams and supporters who never spoke out against apartheid but supported the government’s horrific apartheid legislation and policies.

I recall 1976 when Soweto was burning and student protests and struggles engulfed apartheid South Africa, yet the white Springbok team hosted New Zealand rugby (the All Blacks) on a tour of SA. International protests followed apartheid’s rugby tours, also when SA’s apartheid Springbok teams toured the United Kingdom and New Zealand. I’m mentioning this to demonstrate the intersection linkages between sport and society’s inequalities and oppression and resistance and protest action.

Visual images of white rugby players and supporters of the varsity rugby game, show white students attacking and brutalising black students.  This is the sport’s inheritance onto young white South Africa; those who parents and families have benefited from and supported apartheid sport. White people’s knowledge and generational past which has been passed down is to play sport ‘without political interference’ and support and enjoy rugby like its next best after serving GOD .

Despite coming out of a horrendous past of apartheid sport, those who control and manipulate sport in democratic South Africa, mostly sports officialdom and sponsors and including government representatives, have chosen to make quiet sport voices against inequalities and make people involved in sport believe they are flying a rainbow nation flag for a country where everything is seemingly okay because sport is supposedly about merit and participation in sport and definitely not about ‘politics and protests’.

Sport is vastly and structurally linked to society; sport demonstrates everything about a country and society. In South Africa’s scenario, sport is loaded with social, class and gender inequalities and with corporate control of sport.

So along came the student resistance movement and sport on campuses went along and got played and supported as if sport was happening in another society and country, but not theirs. This is the cocoon that organised sport lives in. Towards the end of the 2015 academic year, those involved in campus sport were more concerned about how and whether they would be able to play their annual varsity sports events and throughout the year varsity sport went on as if everything was not affecting varsity students in sport.

Corporate control of sport, together with those who manage and organise sport, and those who don’t have a critical consciousness, allow and perpetuate sport to be seen as divorced from all other goings on in society.

What the student resistance movement has demonstrated is that varsity sport is not exempt from student struggles and resistance aimed at installing equal and de-colonised institutions of higher learning.

The consciousness of all students, including sport students, academics and support staff and workers, must be radicalised to understand how an unequal society operates to maintain long lines of struggle and immersion in situations that people find unbreathable and difficult to get out of.

Varsity/tertiary sport is not immune to resistance and protest at institutions of higher learning. College/varsity sport is big, student sportspeople get exploited and used. Most importantly, varsity sports are affected by inequalities because they in a society of inequalities demanding structural change and de-colonisation.

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