Siya Kolisi, South Africa’s captain on childhood poverty and mental health, racism, and his legacy


It was more than hunger; it was painful in the stomach. My intestines would twist in the middle of the night.

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Siya Kolisi, South Africa’s Rugby World Cup winning captain, is one of the most well-known athletes in the world.

His millions of fans might not be aware of the journey he unaderwent to reach the pinnacle in his sport. And how he continues “fighting battles” today.

The Springboks’ first black Captain was born in Zwide, Port Elizabeth. He experienced violence and hunger as a child.

He was awarded a scholarship to a school of white rugby and he began to develop his skills on the pitch. Opportunities opened up for him.

Kolisi, now after Rise was published, spoke with Dan Roan, BBC sports editor for The Sports Desk podcast. He explained that he wants to be remembered for more than just his sporting accomplishments.

Kolisi shared these details in a lengthy interview.

His white wife was subject to “horrible,” social media abuses

He admired the activism of Lewis Hamilton and said that he was an “absolutely incredible human being”.

  • His struggle with alcohol led him to say, “I want people know that I am a sinner.”
  • He was touched by Naomi Osaka’s honesty about mental health
  • He was in survival mode because of the poverty he suffered as a child.
  • South Africa’s 2019 World Cup win has had a profound impact

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Kolisi, childhood

Kolisi, speaking to BBC Sport in Durban from the home of his family, Kolisi describes vividly the childhood hunger he experienced.

He says, “It was more than being hungry. It was actually painful in the stomach.”

“I could feel my stomach twisting in middle of the night. My grandmother would bring me sugar water, and I would scream at her.

“We received a lot hate at the beginning of our relationship” – social media abuse

Kolisi claims that he and Rachel, a white woman, were the victims of racist abuse.

Kolisi recalls that they endured “a lot hate” in their first relationship. Kolisi also recalls insults about Kolisi’s wife for “wasting good genes to marry me”.

He said, “That stuff hurts.” She took it very seriously. This stuff needs to be addressed. Some people say that you should accept the good and the ugly. I’d rather not have any of them.

“Some things you just can’t handle. That kind of hate is unacceptable. All people have the right to their opinions, but they can also keep them to themselves. Everyone should be more assertive. Every day we work hard. It’s not possible to win everything every time.

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“We are not robots” – A discussion on mental health in athletes

Kolisi is encouraged by the willingness of sports stars to talk about their mental health. This includes Naomi Osaka, a tennis player who pulled out in May of the French Open to prioritize her mental well-being. Simone Biles, a US gymnast, withdrew in August and July from several events at the Tokyo Olympics for the same reason.

Kolisi says, “I took so many from Osaka.” “It was her willingness to speak up and tell me that I wasn’t OK ‘…, which made me feel okay about not feeling OK at times.

“To listen to someone you admire and someone you look up too, that touches you.

Kolisi: “I’m a sinner” – Kolisi on his flaws

Kolisi, despite his fame and stature around the globe, is open to admitting that he is not perfect. He has used alcohol to cope with childhood traumas.

He said, “People view me as flawless.” Some see me as a god. You don’t share all your struggles on social media. We only post the good times. It’s what my wife and I call the “highlights reel”.

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“But, I also have a responsibility to all people. People my age are dealing with problems.