South Africa’s Springboks – their national rugby team - won the Rugby World Cup, against all odds, in 2019. This was more than unexpected. For many the performance of the team, especially in the final, was seen as a miracle.
Much has been said and written about the role the Springbok Captain, Siya Kolisi, played in leading this diverse team towards victory. He was the first black man to become the captain of the national team.
Still struggling as a young democracy, South Africans are battling despair on many levels. The country is plagued by crime, corruption, joblessness, economic struggles, poverty and division. Twenty-four years earlier, president Nelson Mandela used the national rugby team as a unifying factor in their first ever World Cup victory in 1995. He knew that sport can unite and bring hope. Back then, it was the combination of a white captain of the team, Francois Pienaar, and the first black president, who stood victorious before the world.
In 2019, it was the unified combination of the first black captain, and a white Afrikaner coach, Rassie Erasmus, that captured the imagination of the world.
Coach Easmus and captain Kolisi both played an integral role in leading the team, and the country, towards victory. And the instinctively knew that what the people needed was not merely a victory, but renewed hope.
In his pre-match speech to the team, Erasmus focused on making certain each member of the team understood that they are not playing for themselves, but for the people back home. They were not the bearer of a green and gold jersey, but the custodians of hope.
"We talked about what pressure is," said Erasmus, who has turned his team's fortunes around since taking over a mere two years before the World Cup tournament.
"In South Africa pressure is not having a job. Pressure is one of your close relatives being murdered," continued Erasmus.
"There are a lot of problems in South Africa - which are real pressure. Rugby shouldn't be something that creates pressure, rugby should be something that creates hope. We've got the privilege of giving people hope, not the burden of giving hope. Hope isn't something you talk about, or tweet about. Hope is when you play well and people watch on Saturday at a nice barbeque and feel good after, no matter your political differences, or your religious differences. The moment you see it that way, it becomes a hell of a privilege - and that's how we tackled this whole World Cup campaign."
Coach Erasmus paid tribute to Kolisi, who marked his 50th cap with the biggest prize of all and was hugged by his tearful father after the trophy presentation.
"It's easy to talk about going through hard times and struggling to get opportunities," said Erasmus.
"But then you think about it clearly. At one stage Siya didn't have food or shoes to go to school, and now he's led South Africa to the World Cup - that should sum up what Siya is."
Leaders create hope, then in turn inspires followers, which in turn clarifies purpose, which illuminates vision.
But it all starts with hope that unifies.
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