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Sporting Tribes

Summary:
It is remarkable how quickly tribal feelings can adapt to new circumstances. To see how and why, look no further than British soccer clubs, which, like clubs in many European cities, once commanded ferocious loyalty along geographic, ethnic, and even religious grounds. NEW YORK – Siya Kolisi, who raised the Webb Ellis Cup for his country in Yokohama, Japan, early this month, is the first black man to captain the South African national rugby union team, the Springboks, in a game that used to be associated entirely with white South Africans. He was born in a poor township in the Eastern Cape. Jean de Villiers, a former Springbok captain, said the Springboks’ victory was “for the whole country.” But it was something in

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It is remarkable how quickly tribal feelings can adapt to new circumstances. To see how and why, look no further than British soccer clubs, which, like clubs in many European cities, once commanded ferocious loyalty along geographic, ethnic, and even religious grounds.

NEW YORK – Siya Kolisi, who raised the Webb Ellis Cup for his country in Yokohama, Japan, early this month, is the first black man to captain the South African national rugby union team, the Springboks, in a game that used to be associated entirely with white South Africans. He was born in a poor township in the Eastern Cape. Jean de Villiers, a former Springbok captain, said the Springboks’ victory was “for the whole country.” But it was something in which even non-South Africans could rejoice.

In a way, however, Michael Leitch, the captain of the Japanese team, the Brave Blossoms, is an even more remarkable phenomenon. For several weeks, Leitch, born to a New Zealand...

Ian Buruma
Editor of The New York Review of Books, author of Theater of Cruelty, Year Zero: A History of 1945, and Their Promised Land: My Grandparents in Love and War

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