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Hall of Fame: History and Significance

Valhalla (photo: Wikipedia)

Valhalla (photo: Wikipedia)

The announcement that the South African Hall of Fame is looking to induct four individuals from the world of local horse racing has created a bit of a stir, so we decided to take a look at the history of Halls of Fame around the world.

The definition of a Hall of Fame says that it refers to either a structure housing memorials to famous or accomplished individuals usually chosen by a group of electors; or a group of individuals in a particular category (such as a sport) who have been selected as particularly illustrious.

The concept has its roots in ancient Norse mythology with Valhalla, the hall of the fallen, where the god Odin would house the battle-slain warriors he deemed worthy of dwelling with him.

Inspired by this legend, King Ludwig I of Bavaria built two halls, Walhalla near Regensburg, completed in 1842 and Ruhmeshalle (or Hall of Fame) in Munich, which was completed in 1853. The halls served as museums and contained plaques and statues of illustrious German-speaking people, including scientists, artists, and politicians. The meaning of “fame” has changed over the years, originally meaning “renown” as opposed to today’s more common meaning of “celebrity.”

King Ludwig’s efforts in turn, inspired Dr Henry MacCracken, chancellor of New York University, to establish the Hall of Fame for Great Americans in the Bronx, and his project was completed in 1900. The name of this institution seems to be the first time the English phrase “Hall of Fame” was used.

Unlike his German predecessor who selected the individuals to be commemorated himself, MacCracken established a nationwide body of electors comprised of prominent Americans. This group held regular elections to vote on nominees for entry and the hall includes Americans in a variety of categories, including authors, businessmen, inventors, clergy, scientists, artists, soldiers, and teachers, but it did not include sporting greats.

Honouring The World Of Sport

One of the earliest halls dedicated to professional sports is the National Baseball Hall of Fame founded by Stephen Carlton Clarkin in Cooperstown, New York in 1939. Sports halls of fame generally follow MacCracken’s model of having entry decided by a board of electors.

The first five charter National Baseball Hall of Fame members (Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson) were elected by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA). The ballots revealed that five players had received at least 75 percent of the votes cast, setting a standard for admission to the Hall of Fame that still exists today. Selections to the Baseball Hall of Fame are still made by the BBWAA, along with the Baseball Hall of Fame Committee on Baseball Veterans, established in 1953.

Horse Racing

There are now Halls of Fame to everything from the automotive and aviation industries, to art, music and entertainment and fields as diverse as burlesque, medicine, agriculture, poker and many more. Sport is a popular area, as is horse racing and Google relates that there are currently at least 12 different horse racing halls of fame, most of which have a museum or archive attached. The USA was the forerunner with the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame being founded as early as 1951.

The first inductions to the US Racing Hall of Fame were based on the evaluation of a panel of racing historians and a group of 9 horses from the earliest years of the American turf were inducted in 1955.  The following year’s inductees were 11 horses that raced around the turn of the century, while the 1957 class included 10 horses that raced up to the mid-thirties. Since then, the classes have been significantly smaller as the inductions shifted to more contemporary horses. Under current rules, a horse must have been retired for a minimum of five full calendar years to be eligible. Thoroughbreds remain eligible in the contemporary category between five and 25 calendar years following their final racing year. Thoroughbreds retired for more than 25 calendar years may become eligible through the Historic Review Committee.

South Africa

The South African Hall of Fame is a Level 2, non-profit organisation and runs the gamut of the South African spectrum, including individuals as diverse as Nelson Mandela, Gary Player and Ge Korsten. Chairman Johnny Burger explains, “We are the SA Hall of Fame, we are not sports specific. At this stage we are focussing on sport and the performing arts, but later people like Elon Musk will be added into the mix.”

Why a Hall of Fame? “If you look at the USA, the biggest thing is not to become a Dallas Cowboy or a New York Yankee, they all want to become Hall of Famers. That’s the ultimate. That’s what we are wanting to achieve. The penultimate is to win the July, or World Cup – the ultimate is to become a Hall of Famer.”

The R25 million interactive space is housed in a 1,500 sq m of the Sun Centre at Sun City and was officially opened on the 30 November 2016. The Hall of Fame has teamed up with partners such as SAP and Samsung and through the magic of touch screen technology, CGI simulators and virtual reality, you can be transported into a river raft, a concert stadium, or even square up to Seabelo Senatla over 20m and Johnny feels this is what makes our local Hall of Fame so special.

“If you go to the Apartheid Museum or the Rugby Museum in Cape Town, they’re full of old books and dust and they’re all about history. With us, we’ve got a state of the art virtual reality, touchscreen technology and a golf simulator and you can play 18 holes on any golf course in the world. It keeps changing and evolving which is the nice thing, so people can come back again and again and experience something new.”

Making It Accessible

Thanks to a sponsorship by Bidvest, the team are busy completing a 22 wheeler pantechnicon truck which will contain a roaming exhibition and state of the art academy. “Sun City is wonderful, but less advantaged people are unlikely to get to see it,” continues Johnny. “The aim is to celebrate great achievements by extraordinary South Africans in order to inspire our youth and empower them to reach their full potential, so the truck will travel around the country, visiting all the Sun International properties, attending tournaments and shows and it will he notes. “It will also go into the rural areas to hold academies, do talent scout programmes and holistic development.” The Rural Areas will be the main Aim in order to empower our youth

Taking their lead from international Halls of Fame, inductees are decided by panel. Johnny continues, “Although we manage this Legacy Project, we don’t get to choose who gets in. There is an independent panel that will sit with nominations and will decide based on criteria whether each individual gets in. Each candidate needs an 80% vote, so it’s not easy.” Inductees receive a specially designed token and are inducted at a ceremonial dinner with their official entry marked by the performance of a sabrage.

Local Racing In The Spotlight

Jockey Challenge

Extra Ordinary South Africans come in all shapes and sizes (pic: hamishNIVENPhotography)

Why have they chosen to honour racing? “How can we recognise Gary Player who was a super star in golf, but forget horse racing? We’ve got to celebrate all South Africans that have talent,” says Johnny emphatically. “Outstanding Achievements by Extra Ordinary South Africans come in all shapes and sizes.”

He is also quick to confirm that it will be an on-going process as the Hall of Fame grows and develops. “If you go back in history, our very first World Champion was in 1906, so to be quite honest, we have got to play catch-up. We are sitting with golfers, athletes, cricketers – all these phenomenal greats in history, but one has to do it bit by bit. For racing, we want to do it at the Sun Met every year. Sun International is our partner and we’d like to think we’ve got a good 6, 7 or 8 years that we can celebrate the greats in racing, so yes, we would like to see it become an annual event.”

The Hall of Fame will be inducting a total of four individuals from horse racing, starting with a horse, a jockey, a trainer and an owner. Phumelela Racing Executive Clyde Basel, has been tasked to set up a committee charged with the nomination process and the announcement of the final selections will share the billing with the barrier draw for the 2019 Sun Met at Grand West Casino on 16 January 2019.

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