South African Rugby
Watson storm rages on
October 14, 2008
Luke Watson has found himself at the centre of a disciplinary row over some contentious comments © Getty Images
South Africa flanker Luke Watson has found himself at the centre of a disciplinary whirlwind after the South Africa Rugby Union (SARU) confirmed an official investigation into statements regarding the running of South African rugby that had been attributed to the Western Province star.
Watson was alleged to have said "the problem with South African rugby is that it is controlled by Dutchmen", while also suggesting that South African rugby is "rotten to the core" and also that "the men who sit on my left and right of me in the change room despise me for who I am," whilst appearing as a guest speaker at the Umbumbo Rugby Festival at the University of Cape Town Rugby Club on October 3.
Watson has long been a controversial figure within South African rugby, with several years in the wilderness under Jake White ended when his selection was confirmed by SARU chief Oregan Hoskins in May 2007. His father, Cheeky Watson, was one of the first white rugby players to take a stand against apartheid in the 1970s, playing in mixed-race rugby matches.
Watson has reacted with shock to the statements appearing in the press after they were made public on rugby365.com. Speaking through his father Cheeky, Watson told Die Burger newspaper, "It was a private conversation about transformation. It seems it was illegally taped and distributed. I reserve the right to take legal steps,"
"I believe my human rights have been compromised and I have already contacted lawyers. Our family fought, historically, against discrimination. How can I possibly be accused of an attitude against Afrikaners?
"Anyone who knows me will reject this libellous attack on me with contempt."
Influential Springbok lock Victor Matfield has subsequently weighed in on the debate, telling newspaper Beeld, "I was hoping we were past the stage when people were differentiated from one another according to race, culture and language. If Luke used those words, he shattered the dreams of millions of young South Africans to one day play for the Springboks.
"Luke identified with the code of honour of the Springbok team which says one's own interest is always subject to that of the team. When I was captain I did my best to involve Luke in all the activities.
"I asked him to make an input in video and team sessions and he did not want to. It is untrue that the other players didn't try to accept him. It is rather a case of Luke never wanting to be part of the Springbok set-up. Many players came to me to complain that Luke was not, or did not want to be, a Springbok in heart and soul," Matfield said.
In a statement following an emergency meeting on Monday, SA Rugby said, "Following discussions with Judge Lex Mpati, the chairman of the National Judicial Committee of the South African Rugby Union, a designated official has been appointed to investigate statements alleged to have been made by Springbok and Western Province loose-forward Luke Watson."
"Durban attorney Dekker Govender has been tasked with investigating the allegations and weighing the evidence to determine if they merit a breach of the South African Rugby Union code of conduct."
"If a breach is identified the player will face a disciplinary hearing."
The controversy over Watson's alleged comments comes as the South African rugby establishment has been put under pressure to drop the famous Springbok logo. The future of the emblem was cast into doubt after the Parliamentary Sports Portfolio Committee had called for it to be removed in favour of the protea, South Africa's national flower.
The ruling African National Congress (ANC) has subsequently stated that it will contact all interested parties, including fans, before any decision is made regarding the future of the emblem.
SARU chief Oregan Hoskins said in a statement, "Rugby believes that the Springbok emblem is actually a force for unity in this country and anyone who saw the tens of thousands of South Africans of all races flock to welcome back the World Cup- winning Springboks last October couldn't help but conclude that the public had voted loud and clear on just what they think about the Springbok emblem.
"We will happily engage with the leadership of our government on the issue and welcome their invitation to involve all parties in the debate."