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Q4 2019

You gave us hope, ‘Bokke!

As the Springboks proceeded through the final stages of the World Cup to make the impossible become possible, they ignited hope in all South Africans that Yes! By working together we can beat all odds and achieve a miracle ... in all walks of life. But, did they sell shirts?
Words: Trudi du Toit. Photo: Carin Hardisty

And now there is hope. As coach Rassie Erasmus said, it was a privilege for the Springboks to have played to give South Africans hope. And they did.

Defying all the bookies, sceptical commentators and even consumers who were at first loath to show their colours by buying supporter shirts and replica, the Springbok team showed #StrongerTogether actually works … for all. From the homeless to the privileged, as Captain Kolisi so eloquently said.

But, did they deliver for retailers?

Initially not. Many retailers, fearing that they would be left with unwanted stock, began discounting supporter and replica shirt prices — even in the week leading up to the final.

But, as the ‘Bokke progressed in the tournament, fans started to believe in them and showed this by purchasing Rugby World Cup (RWC) supporter shirts as a memento of what eventually became a momentous event.

Retailers who responded to our survey on RWC shirt sales reported that sales started picking up after the group stages, increased as the ‘Bokke progressed, grew well after the semi-final and reached fever pitch in the days before the final. Those who responded after the final, mostly ticked the Sold Out box.

Even after the tournament ended some retailers reported that fans were looking for Springbok shirts as a keepsake — and many were hoping for the delivery of their commemorative World Cup Champions t-shirts before the end of the absolutely joyous and wonderfully uniting week-long championship tours.

But, heartwarming and proud-making as the public outpouring of support were, the pictures also showed that most of the people lining the streets were wearing old Springbok or Sevens jerseys. The fans’ hearts clearly pumped green-and-gold, but their purses told them to make do with what they had. The frantic search for supporters’ jerseys that characterised the 2007 victory tour just did not materialise.

There is no doubt that the economy and resultant lack of consumer buying power was a major deterrent to shirt sales — especially in the early stages of the tournament.

That is why so many retailers discounted shirt prices. While the bigger chains and online stores discounted supporters’ shirts, independent retailers responding to our survey said that they mainly discounted replica wear, which they believed was too expensive for their customers.

Interestingly, one of the reasons for discounting was to be able to compete with cheap counterfeit prices, an anonymous retailer reported

But, the retail respondents were not too concerned that they will be left with World Cup stock: they will keep it on their shelves as there will be a demand for ‘Bok supporter wear throughout the year, especially now that they are the champions, retailers reported. A third of the respondents said they would add it to their Black Friday offering, in the hope that it would draw customers to their stores.

In the week before the final we were all given hope and a renewed belief that the South African can-do spirit can confound all the pundits to achieve the impossible. Compared to that incredible achievement a massive economic and retail turnaround doesn’t sound so far-fetched.

When a youngster from a village that nobody has ever heard of, who grew up so poor that he often went without food and had to walk 10km to school, becomes the first Springbok to score a World Cup try, everything becomes possible. Even if Makazole Mapimpi himself didn’t believe his classmates when they told him he is destined for rugby greatness.

When a young boy who had to sleep on the floor and often went hungry — until he won a rugby bursary to Grey High School in Port Elizabeth — becomes the first black Springbok captain to lead a team to World Cup victory, the unimaginable becomes reality.

The symbolism of Siya Kolisi lifting the Webb Ellis Cup stretches so far beyond a victory in the IRB World Cup  — momentous as that is.

It has so many similarities to 1995 when Pres. Nelson Mandela united a divided nation in celebration when he presented the trophy to captain Francois Pienaar, both wearing the #6 jersey. That finally silenced those who predicted that South Africa was on the brink of a civil war, at best, or genocide, at worst.

The symbolism of a broadly smiling Pres. Cyril Ramaphosa also wearing a #6 shirt when he endured a beer soaking with the triumphant team members, has not gone unnoticed. Again our country is on a precipice — this time the deep financial hole dug by the previous regime, who, as in 1995, are also continuing their fight-back efforts.

Many started losing hope that we’ll be able to stop the slide, but now we have been reminded that Yes, we can!

The way captain Kolisi tried to cajole coach Erasmus to come with him to accept the trophy is another symbol of the team spirit and sense of togetherness that carried the team to the top — and earned Erasmus the title of Coach of the Year. They were team mates who enjoyed each other’s company for 19 weeks.

Race played so small a role in the team dynamics that Erasmus confesses that the significance of a black Springbok captain completely passed him by until well into the tournament. Former Springbok captain Eben Etzebeth was quoted as exclaiming Can one say you love another man? I so love that man! when he heard that his friend Siya was appointed Springbok captain last year. Kolisi and Etzebeth had been best friends since they were 18 years old.

Scenes of Springboks hugging and kissing each other on the head after scoring a try became commonplace — irrespective of colour.

That sense of we are all together probably explains the huge public backlash to the Totalsports tweet announcing that they removed the life-size posters of Eben Etzebeth from their stores in the week before the RWC final because the media controversy surrounding Eben Etzebeth* has been felt in our stores.*

Within a few days the #Totalsports Must Fall petition had gathered more than 12 500 signatures and the Twitter backlash resulted in more than 2 000 comments and shares criticising the move as a PR disaster, especially days before the final … the supporting messages were minimal and the 736 likes were mainly on comments calling for a boycott of stores, or general criticism of the retail chain.

None of the retailers responding to our RWC sales survey believe that the Eben Etzebeth controversy* contributed to the initial slow sales of Springbok shirts in their stores.

* For those still in the dark: shortly before the Springbok World Cup squad departed for Japan, Langebaan residents accused Etzebeth of racially abusing and assaulting them late at night outside a pub. The ‘Langebaan 4’, assisted by the Khoisan Defiance campaign and Western Cape ANC, laid a complaint with the NPA and SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), who referred the case to the Equality Court. Etzebeth, who visited the pub with a group of 12-15 friends and family members, denies any involvement in the alleged racial abuse or assault. Etzebeth subsequently instituted proceedings in the Johannesburg High Court against the SAHRC, whom he says is in breach of the August agreement that they would investigate the veracity of the allegations and report back to his legal team.

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