Tuesday, 6 October 2015

An antidote to World Cup Fever

No doubt by now my English readers are recovering from Saturday's experience of cold turkey so heartlessly administered by our Australian cousins, and the owners of ITV are vainly trying to persuade advertisers that the viewing figures for future fixtures will be unaffected. And meanwhile some women are refraining from reminding their dearly beloveds that, after all, it's only a game.

The Rugby World Cup, anticipated as the next great sporting event in the country after the Olympic and Commonwealth Games, already shows signs of going the way of all flesh. I suppose the consolation for the RFU is that they have already sold tickets for the potential "hot" matches at vast prices to corporate clients and individuals. The best hope for them and the broadcasters must be that at least one of the home nations comes good and so preserves some great British enthusiasm for the whole show.

The famous tackle on Jono Lomu in 1995 (AP Photo/John Parkin)
Meanwhile it was all put into perspective for me by Miles Pilling who's in the middle of raising cash and awareness for MND with brilliant photographer, Cristian Barnett (26 Miles 4 MND). Miles, like me, has the PLS form of MND. I spent a couple of hours a few weeks ago on a photoshoot with them for their project. He sent me a link to the story of Joost Van Der Westhuizen. I did know about this legend of South African rugby, their scrum half in the World Cup winning team celebrated in the film, Invictus. The championship took place in 1995, a year after Nelson Mandela being elected president of South Africa, and the alliance between Mandela and Francois Pienaar, the team captain, did much to heal the rift left by apartheid.

Van Der Westhuizen's first symptom occurred seven years ago, but it was not until 2011 that he was finally given the diagnosis of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), the commonest, rapid form of MND, with a prognosis of two to five years. Last night I watched a series of YouTube clips (a documentary and some interviews) which vividly and painfully illustrate the nature of the disease. Early on he talks about about his determination to fight the disease and to set up a foundation mainly to provide care and facilities for sufferers of MND (the J 9 Foundation) - 9 being the scrum-half's shirt number. Here are three of the clips: A Life of Two Halves, with Jim RosenthalInterview with Dr Mol (South Africa)The Rugby Show.
At home with his rugby memorabilia (Gallo Images for ESPN)

I ended by reading an article by James Peacock for BBC Sport, Joost Van Der Westhuizen: still fighting on his deathbed, which, despite its sensationalist headline, is well worth a read. At one point he reminded me of my co-author of I Choose Everything, Jozanne Moss, also a young parent of a boy and a girl, when he says, "'But I know that God is alive in my life and with experience you do learn. I can now talk openly about the mistakes I made because I know my faith won't give up and it won't diminish.
'It's only when you go through what I am going through that you understand that life is generous.'"

You do realise that even for an outstanding sportsman such as Joost Van Der Westhuizen there is much more to life than the glamorous and lucrative world of professional sport - there's his family, there's the gift of being alive, and there's God. There are more important things than winning. There's living.

(PS Apologies for the malfunction of the link to the good BBC article. My fault. It now works.)


  1. What a beautiful and amazing comment 'life is generous.' Thank you for linking us to this, Michael.