After the Springboks were knocked out of the Rugby World Cup 2015 by the All Blacks, The Sundays Times went with an amazing picture of Jesse Kriel, standing with both his hands interlocked by the fingers on top of his head. His transfixed figure was accompanied by a backdrop of the black Twickenham sky sparsely shaded with the illuminated drops of rain falling like a curtain on a brave Springbok World Cup campaign.
Somehow when a situation is dreadfully past helping, it does not matter who you are, and where you are from; some how the body knows to automatically put hand on the head. It is like the universal body language gesture for despair.
As a nation we have had a few incidents where this gesture would have been appropriate in recent times. The Marikana catastrophe, the TB Joshua collapsed building body count, the Senzo Meyiwa shooting, the Reeva Steenkamp murder – to count but a few. Last week a similar situation befell us as a country, and I am not talking about losing to the All Blacks 20-18. I am talking about something worse.
South African rugby referee Craig Joubert made a mistake and awarded Australia a controversial off-side penalty in the 79th minute which fly-half Bernard Foley converted to give the Wallabies a narrow 35-34 win over Scotland at Twickenham last week Sunday. It was not enough that he was since savaged on social media and elsewhere by Northern Hemisphere fans and ex-players. The World Rugby governing body added fuel to the fire in an unprecedented move when they released a statement saying that Joubert had indeed made an incorrect decision at the time.
If it was up to Scotland, Joubert should have referred the incident to the television match official (TMO); but Joubert could not do that because the incident in question fell outside the provision of the TMO protocol. Therefore, in a manner of speaking Craig Joubert who had to make the call on what he saw with his naked eye, and only had less than 24 seconds to make a decision that took the World Rugby 24 hours to confirm. In fact had he ignored protocol and referred the matter to the TMO, the Australians would have cried foul for breaking the rules. So Joubert was damned if he did use the TMO, and currently damned for not doing it.
The catastrophe here is the fact that World Rugby went and released the statement. Many referees have made mistakes, and the statement was never released. I will remind you of Bryce Lawrence who refereed the quarterfinal in the 2011 rugby world cup between South Africa and Australia. So terrible was his performance, Lawrence was dropped from the nine-man elite panel in 2012. World Rugby never release as damning a statement as what they did with Joubert.
To me, releasing the statement is tantamount to throwing Joubert, one of us, under a bus. By releasing the statement World Rugby have basically called to public scrutiny the competence of any South African referee who steps on the pitch to oversee a match with Scotland or any Northern hemisphere country forever; even if that referee has a World Cup final in his credentials.
The release of an official statement by World Rugby was not only unfair thing to do to one of us. But it was an attack on our South African-nes, and what did we do? Nothing! Not a hashtag, not a reaction from the Minister. Oh wait I lie, the minister did post a tweet saying – “Thixo waseRugby!!!” and that is it. Other than that, nothing! I thought he lost his phone.
By Saturday morning the #AllBlacksMustFall was trending. In fact throughout this world cup the clarion call was for South Africans to show patriotism and support the Springboks. What good is this patriotism when we feel nothing when one of our own is wronged?
At the risk of sounding like I’m labouring the point in the denouement. We need to accept that it is in the nature of the job that referees will make mistakes. And whichever decision they make serves to disappoint at least one party. They are generally considered to be good referees when they have a habit of getting the big decisions right, which is how Craig Joubert was entrusted with a World Cup final. But given the circumstance of the event in question, Craig Joubert deserved World Rugby’s protection. And when he was served with a hot piping dish of betrayal, a moment worthy of a pause with hands held on our heads; our phlegmatic response was demonstrative of a society pretentious and yet clueless about its own jingoism.
Themba A. Dikgale