South Africa found guilty on disrepute charge
August 25, 2009
South African rugby chiefs and several Springbok players have been punished following a controversial protest during this summer's British and Irish Lions tour.
Players and management wore armbands that featured the word "Justice" before and during the third Test defeat against the Lions in Johannesburg.
Their stance opposed a suspension handed out to lock Bakkies Botha for a dangerous charge on Lions prop Adam Jones during the second Test at Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria seven days earlier. The Wales forward was left nursing a dislocated shoulder that ended his tour.
A three-man independent disciplinary committee, including former Australia captain John Eales, found the South African Rugby Union, team members and officials guilty of bringing the game into disrepute. SARU received a £10,000 fine and each Springbok player who wore an armband landed a £200 fine, expect for skipper John Smit, who was fined £1,000.
The guilty verdicts follow a misconduct hearing held in Dublin earlier this month - but the episode now threatens to rumble on. The International Rugby Board, while welcoming the independent committee's guilty verdicts, said it was "extremely disappointed" at the level of sanctions imposed.
The IRB said it was "giving urgent and serious consideration to the decision of the independent committee and the further options available to it, which include whether or not to bring an appeal against the level of sanctions imposed.
"This ruling will be taken into consideration, along with the recent (Schalk) Burger and (Sergio) Parisse eye-gouging cases, as part of the IRB's ongoing review of Regulation 17. The IRB works tirelessly with all 116 Member Unions and key stakeholders to ensure the safety of players and the reputation of the Game is protected. The IRB will be making no further comment on this case while it considers its options."
And the independent disciplinary committee also stated its unanimous view that world champions South Africa would have faced "much more serious sanctions" had it not been for legal technicalities and a "necessarily strict interpretation" of IRB Regulation 17.
SARU could have expected a more severe fine, while Springbok players and management faced suspension from Rugby World Cup 2011 in New Zealand, albeit suspended unless further acts of misconduct occurred. The independent committee ended its judgment with a clear statement that it believes its decision will deter "all rugby players from adopting such an unwise and ill-considered way to make their feelings clear to the IRB, or the general rugby-watching public."
The committee added there had been "no formal apology, acknowledgement, contrition or clarification from either the players or the SARU themselves." And they blasted the stance as showing "a serious lack of respect and consideration for their opponents."
SARU plan to "review" the punishment with union president Oregan Hoskins declaring in a statement, "We note the outcome of the International Rugby Board's Disciplinary Committee hearing into the charges brought against the South African Rugby Union, Springbok players and management.
"We are reviewing the full findings of the committee and will respond once that review is concluded."
The Lions won the Test finale 28-9, although the series had already eluded them following narrow defeats in Durban and Pretoria. The IRB has 14 days from the date of the independent committee's written decision in which to make any appeal in relation to sanctions.