It was with much enjoyment that I watched Roger Federer add the Davis Cup to his seemingly endless list of career accolades this past weekend. Is Federer the greatest tennis player ever? Who knows. We can romanticise and claim he is but given the ever-changing technology, fitness levels, training regimes and even the kinds of courts today’s players ply their trade on, it really is impossible to compare eras. Would Federer have beaten Jimmy Connors?
Wait, wrong question. Would Roger Federer in his prime have beaten Connors in his? No doubt about it. Given the aforementioned, Federer is a far superior athlete. We’ll never know how good Connors, John McEnroe and the like would have been against today’s stars because everything was different.
However there is one constant and that is the pride and passion shown by these players. In this predominantly individual sport it was great to see Federer’s joy at winning a trophy in his country, Switzerland’s colours. It just proved that regardless of the personal accolades on the ATP Tour, there was an international team competition that was missing from his CV and he wanted it. It is unlikely the 32-year old will win a singles Olympic gold medal but he does have a doubles gold; won with Stanislas Wawrinka, the same man he partnered in Saturday’s doubles victory against France in Lille.
But, believe it or not, this week’s blog is not about the Swiss master. Instead I want to emphasise my subjective take on the pride of playing for one’s country. I might be a little old-fashioned but to me there is no higher honour than excelling in one’s field (sport or otherwise) and bringing glory to your country. When Nelson Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize it was made known that he was from South Africa. Roger Federer is from Switzerland (despite what some South Africans might say) and Lionel Messi is from Argentina. If representing your country was not such a big deal, just observe Cristiano Ronaldo’s expression when he scores a goal in Portugal colours. Sure Real Madrid pay him the big bucks but nothing is sweeter for Ronaldo than achieving in the colours of his country.
With this in mind it is extremely disappointing that South African cannot call on Kevin Anderson when it comes to the Davis Cup. This is not a new story; Anderson has been unavailable for John-Laffnie De Jager’s side for more than three years now. You name the excuse and Anderson has probably used it. Now while I disagree with Anderson’s position, ultimately it is up to him to decide what he wants from his professional career. Clearly representing South Africa is not a priority.
The same can be said of May Mahlangu, who recently rejected a Bafana Bafana call-up. We don’t know the story behind the story of course, but Mahlangu is another example of a man who could be a national hero but he has instead chosen to denounce his country. Again, it is a personal choice but from my standpoint the likes of Mahlangu and Anderson are not worthy to be looked up to by our youngsters. I felt the same way about Benni McCarthy, who goes down as one of South Africa’s great goalscorers but in my book, he is hardly a great South African. Imagine Madiba having to pick the phone up and trying to convince you to renege on your decision and represent your country.
How embarrassing that your country has to practically beg you to wear its colours. I would be so ashamed of myself.