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Blue Bulls Player Accused of Sexual Assault

In light of the accusation, we talk toxic masculinity in sport

Last week, national rugby team The Blue Bulls released a statement confirming the arrest of junior player Khwezi Mafu.

According to EWN, 19-year-old Mafu appeared in a Port Elizabeth court on sexual-assault charges.

The Blue Bulls said in the statement that they ‘would not make any comment at this time and will do so only when the legal system has run its course.’ The only information we do know is Mafu escorted a woman home over the New Year weekend.

Sport has a very important role in our country. There are few things, apart from braai-ing and our love for Black Label, that bring us together quite like sport. It’s our answer to nation-building, from the first unsegregated 1995 Rugby World Cup pulling SA out of being an international pariah, to the 2010 Soccer World Cup that put the gees in the Rainbow Nation. For most, sport here is a church that transcends social barriers. Sportsmen are revered, like idols and movie stars.

Ernie Els, Graeme Smith, Shaun Pollock, Jonty Rhodes, Cecil Afrika, Brian Habana, Francois Pienaar, Pat Lambie and Chad le Clos are just a few household names ubiquitous with South African culture.

What’s less spoken about is the prevalence of toxic masculinity in organised sport. Sports are traditionally seen as men accomplishing feats of strength, turning competition into a symbol of masculinity.

The culture of ‘locker-room’ talk, where from an early age men bond over dehumanising women in the changing rooms, is just one prominent example. Hazing is another dangerous example of what sports can represent for men.

Here are famous South African sportsmen who have been sentenced and convicted for sexual assault and abuse:

1 Joseph Ntshongwana

In addition to being served five terms of life imprisonment (he murdered four people), former Blue Bulls rugby player Joseph Ntshongwana, who played for the team between 1998 and 2001, was also convicted of the kidnapping and rape of a young woman in 2013.

2 Bob Hewitt

Bob Hewitt made history by winning all four tennis doubles Grand Slam titles in 1974. The former tennis champion is serving six years at the St Albans Correctional Centre in Port Elizabeth for the rape and sexual abuse of three teenage girls he coached in the ’80s and ’90s.

3 Dion Taljard

Former Border cricket player Dion Taljard is currently serving an 18-year sentence for 19 counts of rape. The former sportsman was sentenced after being charged for more than 150 rapes of an unnamed woman between 2002 and 2012.

4 SA PSL Player

An unnamed sportsman who was part of the South African Premier Soccer League was arrested and appeared in court last year on a rape charge from 2013.

This hidden shame of sport reflects South Africa’s own pervasive rape culture. It is the perfect breeding ground for toxic masculinity that, when left to fester, results in off-field sexual violence.

Here are tips on how men can do better, on and off the field.

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