South Africa’s Rugby World Cup hero Bryan Habana has argued that the use of the “Proudest Team on Earth” shirt during national anthem ceremonies was “very much about the boys” and not about politics.
Speaking to CNN International in London, the Springbok fullback said “as a player, I’d have taken the knee” had it been his choice.
New Zealand’s All Blacks had famously taken a knee during a World Cup anthem ceremony in 2005 in response to flag-burning incidents involving the US during the Iraq War.
Habana recalled the reactions of then-Springbok head coach Jake White and players Waisake Naholo and Luamanu Laulala upon arriving in England for a meeting with White.
“I don’t think you will find any political agenda – it was just about being footballers,” said Habana.
“They all loved their country and wanted to represent the country. It was just about showing respect and an emotional pride for South Africa and their sporting dreams and dreams within the team.”
South Africa has again found itself in a multi-racial and cross-party row over the use of flags, most notably when their bus was pelted with rotten eggs by alleged nationalists after the Springboks lost a Rugby Championship match against Australia.
White said last week: “Sport is about enjoying each other’s company, celebrating and winning. If there is a problem, it’s about winning and losing.
“We go through a season to be able to play an awesome match, but before you do that it’s about fans enjoying the game, the players enjoying it and the country enjoying the game.”
Yet the Springboks’ chief medical officer, Themba Mthembu, believes even wearing the #RWC18 Proudest Team on Earth shirt would be in breach of the country’s anthem law.
He said: “The flag is supposed to be flying at half mast. There is no way I will even look at that shirt in the stadium.
“We have to deal with these things as a nation and it’s all part of it and part of having a harmonious country.
“I like this shirt very much. I know how the whole team feels about it and how it has been embraced in the country and I understand why, given how sport is growing.”
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