Racist claims overshadow South Africa’s World Cup preparations

Union accuses ‘rugby mafia and white establishment’ of excluding black players

The Springboks: pressure is on the team to record a win before heading to compete in the World Cup in England. Photograph:  Duif du Toit/Gallo Images/Getty Images

The Springboks: pressure is on the team to record a win before heading to compete in the World Cup in England. Photograph: Duif du Toit/Gallo Images/Getty Images

 

Black and white international rugby players have approached South Africa’s largest union to complain about the lack of transformation in the ethnic make-up of the national team just weeks before the kick-off of the Rugby World Cup.

Western Cape regional secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) Tony Ehrenreich said yesterday the federation believed the team to take the field last Saturday was based on “racist choices”, rather than picking form players.

The accusation levelled at the South African Rugby Union comes in the wake of the national rugby team’s humiliating defeat to Argentina, the first time the Springboks have ever lost to the Pumas.

The Springboks were well beaten at Kings Park Stadium in Durban by 37 points to 25, a home defeat that left the rugby-mad nation in last place in this year’s southern hemisphere Rugby Championship.

Only two non-white players, Tendai Mtwarira and Bryan Habana, were included in the starting 15, with another three on the bench. Siya Kolisi, Lwazi Mvovo and Trevor Nyakane were all sent on to play during the game.

Cosatu has insisted that the current management introduce a larger number of non-white players for the next match on Saturday, another World Cup warm-up match against Argentina.

Drastic steps

Yesterday, Ehrenreich said in an official Cosatu statement that the organisation felt transformation in the sport was going backwards and that drastic steps needed to be taken to address the quota among the 15 players who take to the field.

 

“As Cosatu we are concerned and we are speaking on behalf of the black rugby players that rugby transformation is going backwards,” Ehrenreich said.

“Clearly the rugby mafia and the white establishment are excluding black players and playing white players out of position so that they can make place for them in the team. And the team is performing lousy.

“We are insisting that Heyneke Meyer [current head coach] is clearly inappropriate and we need a radical rethink in South African rugby if we are going to do well in the upcoming World Cup.”

Saturday’s defeat was an unprecedented fourth loss in a row for the Springboks, and the pressure is now on the national team to record a win before heading to the northern hemisphere to play in the World Cup in England, which starts next month.

To make matters worse, the Springboks have dropped to fifth in the world rankings, their worst ever position since the system was established.

Cosatu has claimed that five black players competing for Springbok places have approached them for representation because they claim they are victimised when they raise issues of getting more game time and transformation with the rugby leadership.

Another two white players have come forward to support their black team-mates, the union says. However, it refuses to reveal who these players are.

Ehrenreich went on to say that Meyer did not have the national interest at heart, saying the coach “demonstrates a sense of arrogance in disregarding the interest of the majority of South Africans by treating SA rugby as his private fiefdom”.

Not a word has been said about Meyer being the worst performing coach in the Rugby Championship, Ehrenreich said.

“When coach [Peter] De Villiers [South African rugby’s first black national coach] led the team, the white establishment was quick to criticise him, yet there is a deafening silence now,” he said.

“There is a white cabal which still tries to control the rugby team and who gets to play in it. They must be told in no uncertain terms that this Springbok team belongs to all South Africans and should reflect all South Africans.”

Overlooked

There have been a number of stand-out black and mixed-race performers in South Africa’s rugby franchise teams during this year’s Super 15 competition.

 

And the most racially mixed team, the Stormers from the Western Cape province, have performed the best this year out of all the local teams, yet most of its black players are being overlooked at the highest level of the game.

During the Apartheid era rugby was the preserve of white South Africa, and efforts to get the sport to be more inclusive have made little progress since the advent of democracy in 1994.

In response to the complaints that have been made a South African Rugby Union (Saru) spokesman told reporters: “Saru recently signed a memorandum of understanding with government and the South African sports confederation and Olympic committee on a strategic transformation plan for rugby.

“Our focus now is on delivering on our understanding with them and we will continue to engage with sports leadership in the country on our progress.”

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