South Africa: FIFA vs. Rugby World Cup

Graham Jenkins over at ESPN’s Scrum has a great post up looking at the difference in passion levels between the current 2010 FIFA World Cup and the 1995 Rugby World Cup which was also held in South Africa.

One of the money quotes:

Unlike the Springboks, Bafana Bafana have never been a major force in their sport – a fact that was underlined by their failure to progress from the group stages making them the first host nation to exit at the first hurdle. Despite the home side’s shortcomings, the tournament has already been heralded as a success and will no doubt still go on to leave a significant mark in history but with the vuvuzelas silenced to a certain degree and African interest hanging by a thread there is little chance that it will resonate like its rugby equivalent.

The ‘95 Rugby World Cup is a special one to me, it was the first time I had watched rugby on TV, after being involved in it for a few years at that point.  Somehow I stumbled across the listing a day or two before the matches began and spent many late nights and early mornings in front of the TV watching matches from Australia and South Africa through the quarterfinals, many of which might still be on tape at my mom’s house. (I don’t remember the semis or finals being broadcast, I think the station’s coverage ended at the quarters).

The energy behind the 95 RWC was definitely visible, even from thousands of miles away.  Part of it came from the returned standing of the South African Springboks, which had suffered during apartheid when many nation’s sports organizations boycotted them, and part of it came from the success of the Springboks, who eventually won the World Cup – as opposed to this year, when the South African soccer team was eliminated in the first round (a first for a host country I believe).

There are some parallels between South Africa hosting the Soccer World Cup and the ever present “proposed” United States hosting of the Rugby World Cup. Both nations are minor-league players in these proposed sports, and a lesson to come away from the World Cup this year would be that if the host country loses in the first round, support for the event in the host country will drop, possibly not dramatically.  But with rugby in the U.S., there isn’t much of a margin for error in support.  I’ll address this in a future post.

For now, let’s enjoy the ending of the round-ball’s Cup and start the buildup for 2011 in New Zealand!

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