Herschel Jantjies is the biggest name in South African rugby right now. Mokgadi Caster Semenya is in a battle with the IAAF to defend her titles. Stuart Baxter just vacated his job as Bafana Bafana head coach. Each has enjoyed substantial coverage in the media and has a unique persona created around them. And that’s the problem.
Jantjies has typically been described as a player with flair because that’s the traditional media description of a player of colour who does their job well. That last-minute try against the All Blacks that made me almost stop my car in the middle of the road to celebrate was a planned and well-rehearsed attacking move designed to give Cheslin Kolbe space to take on the New Zealand defence on the outside.
My point is that here you have players who doggedly stick to the coach’s vision and play design and the media portrays it as a lightning stike. Herschel Jantjies is an incredible passer of the ball and he goes about the business of passing it to his flyhalf and sticking to the game plan really well. Unlike a certain blond scrumhalf who, once again, butchered try-scoring opportunities by trying to control the game with his unpredictable spurts of braindead kicks and snipes. Faf gives us plenty on defence, but count the number of tries he has set up in the last two seasons outside of asking Aphiwe Dyanti to to the impossible with box kicks.
Jantjies is an incredible player and is enjoying a rich vein of try-scoring form right now, but the secret sauce is literally just playing the position well.
Semenya, on the other hand is lauded as a champion of human rights and all South Africans are called to rally around her in this noble fight against injustice. My question is: injustuce against who? If Semenya wins against the IAAF and is allowed to run freely as a woman, who wins? Look, she’s an amazing athlete who has worked incredibly hard to achieve what she has managed to, but she also doesn’t conform with gender norms.
Unfortunately she competes in a sport that needs to draw clear gender lines as we transition into an era of more inclusion. Gender identity is a personal decision and that choice is the right of the individual to make. To level the playing field, however, there needs to be a scientific method to separating men and women that leaves no room for doubt.
Whether elevated testosterone levels provides a competitive advantage is not the debate, testosterone thresholds is the chosen gender marker. If she wants to compete, she must abide by the regulations which are structured around a gender marker that doesn’t discriminate against transgender athletes who want to compete as women. If I declared myself to be a woman and lowered my testosterone levels to the requirements, I could also compete in the 800m event at IAAF sanctioned races (after discovering timetravel and training for two decades, of course).
There is no clear human rights violation here, that’s why she keeps losing in court. It also isn’t a human rights issue to begin with, but a symptom of a poor response to gender fluidity by an international sports body. Creating a competitive category for transgender or androgenous athletes is the only way forward.
In 2017 Stuart Baxter was handed the keys to the Bafana bus and told to take the team to the 2022 world cup in Qatar. His second spell at the wheel of this disfunctional vehicle ended abuptly as after stumbling to the Afcon quarter finals and publicly challenging his employers to test his commitment.
Baxter provided Safa with a four phase strategy to achive the goal and had successfully concluded the first two crucial steps. One was to rebuild the squad and reduce the average age. An 18 month unbeaten run going into Afcon was testament to that. Phase two was gaining experience at an international competition. Again, mission accomplished.
I don’t follow local soccer and the trials and tribulations of our national football team very closely, and I was quite surprised that the team was actually on an upward performance trajectory. According to the insights I was gaining through the media, Bafana Bafana was a dumpster fire and Safa is an organisation in disarray.
The latter is most certainly true, but the former seems to be a nightmare dreamt up by journalists trying to catch the attention of a distracted public. I don’t blame the guy for bailing on the project because of a lack of support from management and public opinion that’s been mislead.
My point: the juniorisation of newsrooms and the constant validation of clickbait has left our media in a terrible state. The only way it gets better is if we spend our rands on buying newspapers or subscribing to credible news outlets. The more attractive the audience numbers are for advertisers, the more resources can be spent on accurate news gathering and fair reporting.