And now there is hope – just like in the song Give us hope, Joanna! As coach Rassie Erasmus said, it was a privilege for the Springboks to have played to give South Africans hope. And they did. Defying all the bookies, sceptical commentators and even consumers who were at first loath to show their colours by buying supporter shirts and replica, the Springbok team showed #StrongerTogether actually works.
Please add your voice by completing our short survey on RWC supporter shirt sales here.
As the ‘Bokke progressed in the tournament, fans started to believe in them and began buying Rugby World Cup (RWC) supporter shirts as a memento of what eventually became a momentous event. Retailers who have so far responded to our survey on RWC shirt sales report that sales started picking up after the group stages, increased as the ‘Bokke progressed, grew well after the semi-final and reached fever pitch in the days before the final. Those who responded after the final, mostly ticked the Sold Out box.
Brace yourself for the next wave of green-and-gold demands as fans prepare to line the streets in their thousands for the RWC Champions Tours that start on 7 November in Pretoria, Johannesburg and Soweto, followed by Durban on Friday, then East London and Port Elizabeth, to end in Cape Town on Monday 11 November.
Even after the tournament ended retailers reported that fans were looking for Springbok shirts as a keepsake – and this will, no doubt, increase during the coming week. We have not yet had a response from ASICS about our enquiry regarding the delivery of a commemorative World Cup Champions shirt, but 75% of the retailers who responded to our survey so far believe there will be a big demand for such a shirt from their customers.
There is no doubt that the economy and lack of consumer buying power, which resulted in many fans wearing old Springbok or Sevens jerseys, was a major deterrent to shirt sales – especially in the beginning stages of the tournament.
That was also the reason why so many retailers discounted shirt prices even in the days leading up to the final. While the bigger chains and online stores discounted supporters’ shirts, independent retailers responding to our survey (see here) said that they mainly discounted replica wear. Interestingly, one of the reasons mentioned for discounting was to be able to compete with cheap counterfeit prices.
Should they have stock left after next Monday, some retailers say they will keep it on their shelves as there will be a demand for ‘Bok supporter wear throughout the year, while others are planning on adding it to their Black Friday offering.
That is, IF they have stock left.
Because in that week before the final we were all given hope and a renewed belief that the South African can-do spirit can confound all the pundits to achieve the impossible – and be crowned the best team in the world after being ranked #5 in the world before the World Cup tournament. Compared to that achievement a massive economic and retail turnaround doesn’t sound so far-fetched.
When a youngster from a village that nobody has ever heard of, who grew up so poor that he often went without food and had to walk 10km to school, becomes the first Springbok to score a World Cup try, everything becomes possible. Even if Makazole Mapimpi himself didn’t believe his classmates when they told him he is destined for rugby greatness.
When a young boy who had to sleep on the floor and often went hungry – until he was exposed to proper nutrition after winning a rugby bursary to Grey High School in Port Elizabeth – becomes the first black Springbok captain to lead a team to World Cup victory, the unimaginable becomes reality.
The symbolism of Siya Kolisi lifting the Webb Ellis Cup stretches so far beyond a victory in the IRB World Cup – momentous as that is.
It has so many similarities to 1995 when Pres. Nelson Mandela united a divided nation in celebration when he presented the trophy to captain Francois Pienaar, both wearing the #6 jersey. That gave us hope for a united country and finally silenced those who predicted that South Africa was on the brink of a civil war, at best, or genocide, at worst. We became the benchmark for reconciliation throughout the world.
The symbolism of a broadly smiling Pres. Cyril Ramaphosa also wearing a #6 shirt when he endured a beer soaking with the triumphant team members, has not gone unnoticed. Again our country is on a precipice – this time the deep financial hole dug by the previous regime, who, as in 1995, are also continuing their fight-back efforts. Many started losing hope that we’ll be able to stop the slide, but now we have been reminded that Yes, we can!
As Pres. Ramaphosa tweeted: “We have come a long way from 1995 to where we are today. We are demonstrating to the world that we are a diverse and united nation, the nation of Nelson Mandela.”
The way captain Kolisi tried to cajole coach Erasmus to come with him to accept the trophy is another symbol of the team spirit and sense of togetherness that carried the team to the top – and earned Erasmus the title of Coach of the Year.
They were team mates who enjoyed each other’s company for 19 weeks. Race played so small a role in the team dynamics that Erasmus confesses that the significance of a black Springbok captain completely passed him by until well into the tournament. Former Springbok captain Eben Etzebeth was quoted as exclaiming “Can one say you love another man? I so love that man!” when he heard that his friend Siya was appointed Springbok captain last year. Kolisi has confirmed that he and Etzebeth had been best friends since they were 18 years old.
The team also break with tradition in other ways. Neither the World Rugby Player of the Year, Pieter-Steph du Toit, nor Lukhanyo Am, who helped make the historic try, come from the traditional rugby schools that are considered by many as future Springbok factories. Du Toit went to Swartland High in Malmesbury, close to his parents’ olive farm in Riebeeck Kasteel on the West Coast, while Am grew up in King William’s Town in somewhat less affluent circumstances. Yet they became world champions and brothers.
Scenes of Springboks hugging and kissing each other on the head after scoring a try became commonplace – irrespective of colour.
That sense of we are all together probably explains the huge public backlash to the Totalsports tweet saying that they have removed the life-size posters of Eben Etzebeth from their stores in the week before the RWC final because “The media controversy surrounding Eben Etzebeth has been felt in our stores.”*
At last count the #Totalsports Must Fall petition had gathered more than 12 500 signatures within six days and the Twitter backlash resulted in more than 2 000 comments and shares criticising the move as a PR disaster, especially days before the final … the supporting messages were minimal and the 736 likes were mainly on comments calling for a boycott of stores, or general criticism of the retail chain.
None of the retailers responding to our RWC sales survey (see here) believe that the Eben Etzebeth controversy contributed to the initial slow sales of Springbok supporter shirts in their stores.
There will soon be clarity on whose view is righteous as the SA Human Rights Commission announced yesterday that they are proceeding with the case against Etzebeth in the Equality Court.
*For those still in the dark: shortly before the announcement of the Springbok World Cup squad in August Langebaan residents accused Etzebeth of racially abusing and assaulting them late at night outside a pub. The ‘Langebaan 4’, assisted by the Khoisan Defiance campaign and Western Cape ANC, laid a complaint with the NPA and SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), who referred the case to the Equality Court. Etzebeth, who visited the pub with a group of 12-15 friends and family members, denies any involvement in the racial abuse or assault and maintains he attempted to establish peace between two rather vocal combative groups. Etzebeth subsequently instituted proceedings in the Johannesburg High Court against the SAHRC, whom he says is in breach of the August agreement that they would investigate the veracity of the allegations and report back to his legal team.