Whenever we told anyone that we were going to attend a soccer (er, football) game, we were greeted with raised eyebrows. Actually, let me clarify: whenever we told any white person that we were going to attend a soccer gamer, we were greeted with raised eyebrows. The eyebrows differed in meaning from intrigued surprise to disapproving bewilderment, but they were all raised just the same.
In South Africa, sports – like so much else – carry a racial identifier. Rugby is the sport of white Afrikaners, though there have been repeated efforts to make the team a source of national pride across racial lines. These efforts have had mixed results, with highs such as the triumph in the 1995 Rugby World Cup, which took place in South Africa and featured Nelson Mandela rallying the nation behind the team, and lows such as this year’s efforts to get a court order to stop the South African team from leaving the country for its failure to make greater efforts to include black South Africans on its roster or in its player development. Soccer is the sport of the black South Africans. Cricket seems to draw the most diverse crowds, though the national and professional teams are predominantly white – at the matches we’ve been to, there has been significant black, white, and Indian representation in the stands. These distinctions are not wholly accurate, but they are generally true.
Undeterred by raised eyebrows, we set out to the stadium here in Bloemfontein for a soccer match between the local team, Bloem Celtic and the Kaizer Chiefs, a club from the Soweto townships near Johannesburg that is sort of the Lakers or Cowboys of South African soccer. Continue reading