The liturgy of the 1995 Rugby World Cup: a spatial-liturgical reflection through the lens of a social cohesion model

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The liturgy of the 1995 Rugby World Cup: a spatial-liturgical reflection through the lens of a social cohesion model

“Francois, fantastic support from 63 000 South Africans here today?”, TV anchor man David van der Sandt remarked after the Springboks had beaten the mighty All Blacks in the final of the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Without missing a beat, Pienaar replied: “David, we didn’t have the support of 63 000 South Africans today, we had the support of 42 million South Africans” (Gallagher 2010:2).

There are moments in history that contribute greatly to the social cohesion of an entire community and even nation. In this article, the author reflects on a specific moment in the history of South Africa that captured the attention of people all over the world as an example of such a contribution.

Both religion and sport are ritual domains. In the words of Paul Post: “Rituals were thought to offer an effective entrance into a culture, allowing one to penetrate it deeply” (2015:1). The approach followed in this article may be summed up in the words of Post (2015:5): “Often ritual is liturgy and ceremony.” Sport rituals and liturgy play an important part in this investigation, the purpose of which is to show the impact that a sport liturgy can have on the social cohesion of society in general, using an in-depth example of the 1995 Rugby World Cup as the specific event.

This article shows how the liturgy of this event resembles the liturgy of a church service. People no longer worship only in church. They use other spaces where they experience the same “feeling” they experience during a church service. Theology and the church in general should take note of this and use the knowledge to reach out to people in a different way. The original meaning of word liturgy is “service”. This service includes our service to God, but also to one another. Liturgy includes the way we live our daily lives and not only the way we live for an hour or two on a Sunday. Christian liturgy is, therefore, not necessarily elevated over sport liturgy, but is simply different. The one is not epistemologically or morally better than the other. They both serve their communities. During the World Cup event there were liturgists participating; it took place in different liturgical spaces; and as is typical of liturgy, there was a definite entrance, followed by a greeting, silence, a time of praise, commitment and dedication, a message, prayer, offering, final praise and a blessing.

The World Cup as a spatial-liturgical event is examined through the lens of a social cohesion model. Social cohesion refers to the way in which members of a community create space for one another in such a way that individuals feel they belong in the community and are recognised in it as members. The components of this social cohesion model are: trust, cooperation, affiliation, personal well-being and safety. Trust has two dimensions: character and competence. In the words of Covey (2009:2): “Character includes your integrity, motive, and intent with people. Competence includes your capabilities, skills, results, and track record.” Both dimensions are necessary to establish trust, which is the basis for cooperation. In turn, individuals will cooperate if the welfare of both parties is served. Affiliation refers to the fundamental need people have to belong and to be part of something meaningful along with other people. For example, people head off to work daily as much for daily meaning as for daily bread and this experience of meaningfulness contributes greatly to personal well-being. The last component of this model is safety. The greater a person’s experience of safety, both mental and physical, the greater their ability to connect to others and the greater their sense of belonging, which in turn enables them to make a difference.

The important role that sport plays in South Africa is captured in this quotation on South African Tourism’s website: “Sport and South Africa are intricately intertwined. In our country, sport is something of a religion, and no matter what our differences are, we all worship at the sporting altar.”

The words of Desmond Tutu describe what this affiliation did for the whole nation: “That match did for us what speeches of politicians or archbishops could not do. It galvanised us, it made us realize that it was actually possible for us to become one nation” (Carlin 2007; 2008:245–6). Trust played an important role during this event, as the different role players had been enemies in the past. Politics could not establish trust between these opposing parties, but Mandela, as a clever strategist, used the medium of sport to establish trust between himself and the Springboks, starting with the captain, through him to the team and onwards eventually between himself and his previous enemies, the Afrikaners. Cooperation was established with different role-players: the media, the public, the players, even South African Airways, and, via Mandela, with the ANC as the political party of the day. The Springbok team experienced a feeling of safety and well-being because of the trust of their captain, administrators, president and supporters. This enabled them to perform as they did. By cooperating with and supporting one another, Mandela, the Springboks and the whole of South Africa contributed to the welfare of the nation.

Sport does have the potential to change the world. One must, however, be aware that, as with all things in life, there should be a balance, always keeping the greater good of all involved in mind.

Nelson Mandela understood this when he said, “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire; the power to unite people that little else has … It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers.”

This vision of a charismatic leader determined the success of this event from beginning to end. The victory of the Springboks in the Rugby World Cup was the positive outcome of this liturgy. Although a defeat might still have brought many positive outcomes, it could easily have had the opposite effect. Mandela was clearly aware of how delicate the situation was.

Sport had a favourable influence on social cohesion in this event. The well-being of Nelson Mandela, his willingness to forgive and to work for the greater good of all, contributed to the well-being and social cohesion of an entire nation.

It could, however, happen that although a sporting event has a positive outcome, it does not benefit the whole of society. Such an event was the 1936 Olympic Games. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister, remarked on 23 April 1933, “German sport has only one task: to strengthen the character of the German people, imbuing it with the fighting spirit and steadfast camaraderie necessary in the struggle for its existence” (Levine 2016:1). The focus of the 1936 Games was less on promoting sport than on promoting a country and its leader. The Germans used the 1936 Olympic Games to promote nationalism under a smokescreen. Hitler’s regime was fortunate that the outcome was positive on the level of sporting achievement. There were, however, at that time already groups in German society who were paying a high price without the rest of the world’s knowing it. This example indicates how sport can, on the surface of things, have a positive appearance, although, in reality, negative events are happening behind the scenes.

How can the liturgy of a sporting event be of value to practical theology? Practical theology wants to improve the praxis through new models and theories. The objective of this article is to show how exegesis of context and the rituals within a liturgical space can serve the pragmatic task of practical-theological interpretation. The article moves from the descriptive-empirical task of practical-theological interpretation (asking the question “What is going on?”), through the interpretive task (asking the question “Why is it going on?”), to the pragmatic task (asking the question “How might we respond?”). The concepts praxis and lived religion focus on the actions of people, rather than on abstract theoretical knowledge, religious institutions, sacred sources and doctrines. What is important is lived religion in daily life, and how it contributes to the relationship with God. There is constant interaction with other disciplines and life in general to stimulate new understanding and ways of thinking through the hermeneutic cycle and the interaction that takes place.

Spectators at a sporting event can have an experience like that of participants in a church service. One cannot ignore spatial-liturgical and ritual-liturgical events outside traditional church buildings, especially since traditional spaces of worship and church buildings are no longer the only places where worship takes place. Participants in these liturgies experience them in no way as trivial, but rather as meaningful ways of being in the world.

The reflection in this article is done within the framework of liturgical and ritual studies as a subject within practical theology.

Keywords: liturgy; Nelson Mandela; practical theology; spatial liturgy; social cohesion; 1995 Rugby World Cup

Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans: Die liturgie van die 1995-Wêreldrugbybeker-eindwedstryd: ’n ruimtelik-liturgiese refleksie deur die lens van ’n sosiale-kohesie-model

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