Rugby Coach Peter de Villiers, South Africa’s King Of Controversy

Peter De Villiers first made headlines by becoming the first black coach of the powerful South African national rugby team. But it's his controversial comments that have all the rugby world up in arms. The latest: disparaging remark about the New

South African rugby coach Peter de Villiers
South African rugby coach Peter de Villiers
Bruno Lesprit

LE MONDE/Worldcrunch

WELLINGTON For someone with a reputation as a ‘professional provocateur," Peter de Villiers had been remarkably discreet during this year's Rugby World Cup. But of course it was only a matter of time before the South African coach would say something to ruffle some feathers.

That moment finally came on Monday, when De Villiers took the bold step of slagging off none other than the haka dance, one of host country New Zealand's sacred symbols. Haka, a traditional war dance of the country's indigenous Maori people, has gained notoriety throughout the world thanks to New Zealand's national rugby team, the All Blacks, which performs the dance before international matches.

De Villiers suggested the All Blacks may be overdoing things when it comes to haka. "The people get too used to it. It's no longer a novelty, so people don't respect it."

New Zealanders young and old were shocked – and more than a little perplexed – by the coach's brutal rebuff. Everyone, that is, except perhaps the Maori themselves, who may actually have appreciated the comments. During his polemical press conference, which was held in Opotaka, De Villiers talked about Ka Mate, a version of the haka warrior dance performed by the local Ngati Tuwharetoa tribe. The coach praised Ka Mate for its intensity and authenticity.

A Reputation That Precedes Him

For New Zealanders, this was their first real introduction to Mr. De Villier, a household name in South Africa who is as controversial as he is well known. At home, the 54-year-old coach also shoulders incredibly high expectations. The Springboks, as the South African rugby team is known, are the defending world champions. A win in this World Cup would be the team's third title – a record. It would also make the Springboks the first team in tournament history to win back-to-back World Cups.

Rugby is a very big deal in South Africa. Four years ago, when the South African captain, John Smit, received the trophy, he immediately called for President Thabo Mbeki to lift it with him. The symbol of the "rainbow nation," a white player and a black president united on the pitch, wasn't a first. Twelve years earlier, just after the end of the Apartheid, Nelson Mandela was handing the same trophy to Francois Pienaar in Johannesburg – a historical moment captured in the Clint Eastwood movie, Invictus.

Somewhat surprisingly, South Africa replaced the coach that led them to the 2007 World Cup title: Jake White. The reason? White didn't see eye to eye with the powerful South African Rugby Union (SARU), which wanted to implement a quota for black players. White thought black players should – like the famous player Bryan Habana – earn their spot based on talent. The SARU fired White and replaced him, in 2008, with De Villiers, the Springboks' first non-white coach.

Success On The Field, Controversy Off

Oregan Hoskins, the SARU president, opposed the move, but was forced to accept De Villiers because of parliamentary pressure from the ANC, Mandela's historic party. He let his disapproval be known by suggesting that rugby wasn't the only factor considered in choosing De Villiers. Other critics have echoed the sentiment, saying De Villiers earned the job because of the color of his skin, not his talent.

De Villiers' proponents disagree, saying the coach's resume speaks for itself. A former scrumhalf, De Villiers began playing rugby during the Apartheid era. He went on to coach the Under 21 team to a World Cup victory in 2005, and then, two years later led the Emerging Springboks (the B team) to a win in the Cup of Nations.

Upon taking over as coach of the national team, De Villiers gave 16 of the squad's 42 roster spots to black players. But he also convinced the white captain, John Smit, to stay on. After a difficult start, the team marked up some key victories – beating the New Zealand's powerful All Blacks, whom De Villiers called "cheats' before hand, and going on to win the 2009 Tri-Nations tournament.

Despite the team's success, the outspoken coach continues to be a lighting rod for controversy. He was caught in a media storm two years ago when he responded to criticism of black scrumhalf Ricky Januarie with thinly veiled accusations of racism.

"He made one mistake on Saturday, but so did other players," said De Villiers. "What I've learned in South Africa is the following; if you take your car to a garage to be repaired and the owner is black and he doesn't do a good job, you will never take it back there again. But if the owner is white and the garage makes a mistake, people say, never mind, he made a mistake."

Later he defended flanker Schalk Burger, a white player, who received an eight-week suspension for gouging an opponent's eye. "Rugby's a contact sport and so is dance," he said. De Villiers urged anyone who has a problem with that to visit their nearest "ballet shop" and buy a tutu.

This time, the coach's humor landed him in hot water with South Africa's sports minister, Makhenkesi Stofile, who told De Villiers to "shut up" or risk getting fired. Stofile was also uncomfortable with comments the coach made about the South African rugby player Jacobus "Bees' Roux, who was arrested last year after allegedly beating a police officer to death. De Villiers said he was "100% behind" Roux. The sports minister suggested De Villiers should hire a spokesperson as a way to stop running his mouth.

De Villiers, never known for his modesty, compares his plight to Jesus. "The same people who threw their robes on the ground when Jesus rode on a donkey, were the same people who crowned him and hit him with sticks and stuff like that," he said. "I'm not saying I'm God. I have God-given talent. I am the best I can ever be."

And if the Springboks win the World Cup? "A Boks coach who wins is a superhero," said De Villiers. "One who loses is a clown." For now, anyway, the controversial coach is still somewhere in between those two poles.

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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