The Rugby World Cup has brought much more than just the excitement of the games to the forefront. South Africa's alternative kit has sparked controversy, social media mockery, and strong opinions from former captains.
South Africans are no strangers to rallying behind the national rugby team, the Springboks. As the Boks set their sights on claiming a fourth Rugby World Cup title, a rather peculiar issue has stolen some of the limelight. The team's new alternative jersey, donned during the recent match against Scotland, has provoked an emotional cocktail of confusion, anger, and derision.
Image: SA Rugby
The Jersey that Launched a Thousand Tweets
Traditionally, the Springboks are seen in their iconic green jerseys with a gold collar and white shorts. The alternative has typically been a white jersey with green shorts. But this year, the Springboks have taken a sartorial detour, causing consternation among their fan base. Social media erupted in a cacophony of mockery and derision, with comparisons ranging from "sponsored by the supermarket group Checkers" to "an advert for peppermint toothpaste."
Nike, the team's new sponsor, alongside SA Rugby, created the alternative jersey. They explained that the design "pays homage to local culture through the patterned print," inspired by the colors of the local natural scenery. Unfortunately, the attempt at inclusivity and tribute seems to have misfired spectacularly.
An Open Letter and A Higher Cause
Wynand Claassen and Tommy Bedford, former Springbok captains, were so incensed by the change that they penned an open letter to World Rugby and the World Cup organizers to express their displeasure. They weren't alone in their sentiments.
However, this issue comes with a twist. The Springboks' alternative jersey has a noble purpose tied to it. World Rugby is making strides toward inclusivity for people with colour vision deficiency (CVD), commonly known as colour blindness.
The alternative kits, including the Springboks', are designed to help avoid kit clashes that would make it difficult for people with CVD to follow the action. September 6 even marked World Colour Blind Awareness Day, underlining World Rugby’s commitment to inclusivity.
Image: The Go-To Guy Creations
More Than Just Threads and Dye
Kit testing began early in 2023, in consultation with Colour Blind Awareness (CBA) and participating rugby unions. This aims to ensure maximum contrast between the kits of both teams and match officials. Other teams, including Georgia, Ireland, and Tonga, have also committed to wearing alternate jerseys for certain games.
While many may perceive the debate over a jersey as trivial, it holds significant implications for the sport's accessibility. It brings up questions on the balance between tradition and inclusivity—can the two coexist?
The Team Supports Jersey
The Springboks, for their part, have backed the jersey. "It's more about the Bok and less the frock," said Kurt-Lee Arendse, emphasizing the team's focus remains on the game.
Perhaps Simmering Down
As the World Cup unfolds, it remains to be seen whether the controversy will simmer down, or whether the jersey will become an emblematic point of contention that overshadows the Springboks' performance.
In a time when sports are recognizing their roles in broader societal issues, the tale of the Springboks' alternative jersey becomes not just a fashion statement but a litmus test for the evolving ethos of rugby itself.
If the Springboks win the WorldCup then perhaps a Jersey may be the last thing on peoples mind :)