'Invictus': whitewash meets fairytale

This post was originally published on rugbyreloaded.com on 8 March 2010.

There's been an ocean of ink written about Clint Eastwood's latest movie Invictus. But perhaps the verdict on the 1995 Springboks should be delivered by Chester Williams, the side's only black player.

Interviewed in the Guardian in 2002 he recalled that in 1995:

"The marketing men branded me a product of development and a sign of change," he says. "Nothing could have been more of a lie. I wasn't a pioneer. Other black players had been Springboks before me, one of them in my own family [his uncle Avril was capped in 1984]. More have followed me. They know the vibe. They have felt it and been demoralised by it."

The mood in the [Springboks' world cup] camp, he says, was, give or take the odd James Small barb, "nothing malicious". There was rather an overwhelming sense that he did not deserve his place in the team and a low-level resentment that his very presence for political reasons meant a white player was being deprived of his opportunity.

"It could never occur to them that a black player could be better than a white," he says. "They only tolerated us in the team because it made them look as though they had embraced change. You know, much of it was born of the belief that being white in South Africa somehow made you superior to anyone born black."

The proof of his position dawned on him when he was dropped from the 1999 World Cup squad. The then coach, Nick Mallett, told him the team had enough black players to fulfil the terms of a newly imposed government quota and frankly the only way a black player was ever going to get into his side was through a quota.

"All I ever wanted was to be accepted as a rugby player," says Williams. "I hated being called a 'quota player'. That suggested I didn't deserve my place in the team. Until then I really believed my performances in 1995 and after that had broken down prejudices and changed mind-sets. That hurt."

So much for bringing 'people together through the universal language of sport' as the movie claims.