Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Guest review: "Playing the Enemy"

Through the wonder of social media and blogs, I have discovered another book review site that like this one, aims to review books on many different sports and introduce readers to them.  One of these bloggers from the United Kingdom, Aiden Williams, has been kind enough to allow me to share some his reviews here. Keeping in mind the goal of increasing the variety of sports portrayed here, here is Aiden's review of "Playing the Enemy", a book on rugby and Nelson Mandela that inspired the movie "Invictis."

Rugby enthusiast or not, there won’t be many people who don’t instantly recognise iconic the cover image of the moment Nelson Mandela, dressed in a Springbok jersey, handed the Rugby World Cup to the imposingly tall, blonde Afrikaner Francois Pienaar. It’s an image that has come to symbolise the moment that South Africa really began to become the Rainbow Nation. The moment that Mandela’s forgiveness manifested itself in such a public and heart winning way. The moment that appealed to the Afrikaner’s hearts rather than their minds.
John Carlin was the South African correspondent for the Telegraph through the turbulent end to apartheid, Mandela’s release, the first free elections and of course the 1995 Rugby World Cup. In that time he developed not only as deep an understanding of the troubled nation and is people as a foreign correspondent could, but also got to know Mandela and the thought processes which lead the great man to that symbolic act on the Ellis Park turf.
Rugby was the Afrikaner sport, a sport where the non whites of apartheid South Africa would actively support the opposition over the hated Springboks. The green jersey and the Springbok name and symbol itself were emblems of the regime hated by the oppressed majority. But Mandela saw it as the vehicle to win over his former oppressors and in the World Cup, his chance came to show his forgiveness and unite a nation.
Mandela had long taken an approach of wooing those who held him captive; learning their ways, their passions, their language. He soon learned that Rugby held the key to the Afrikaner’s emotions, and the sporting boycott which prevented international competition was hurting them deeply. Carlin’s engaging book charts the political evolution in South Africa through the tumultuous years from Mandela’s imprisonment and release. The country’s future hung in the balance through this time with the threat of civil war ever present, and a fearful white minority seeking solace in their one true passion: Rugby. Carlin weaves this political mess into a compelling tale with Rugby at its core along with interviews aplenty with both oppressed and oppressor alike, all the while against the backdrop of the approaching Rugby World Cup and all that it meant to the country.
The interactions between President and players both before and during the World Cup make for very interesting reading, as Mandela urged “his boys” to take their opportunity to push the country further along the road to integration on the back of the political prefabricating. The players bought into his vision and as they progressed through an ultimately successful World Cup, the story reaches its iconic conclusion, and the rest is, as they say, history.
The book was also the basis for the 2009 film Invictus, and in both formats the story is well told, but in the book form, the greater detail, depth, insight and context Carlin is able to provide makes for a great read for both sports fans and non sports fans alike.
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