Rugby tours saved as Luyt surrenders

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SOUTH AFRICAN rugby will today ask the National Sports Council to call off its plans to disrupt tours by Wales and Ireland after the country's controverisal white rugby supremo Louis Luyt agreed to resign.

Mr Luyt, rugby's autocratic Mr Big, bowed to pressure to quit as president of the South African Rugby Football Union (Sarfu) yesterday. He told the Afrikaans newspaper Rapport that he intended to go, and his formal resignation is expected today.

Mr Luyt, who led white South Africans' favourite game into a bitter racially charged confrontation with President Nelson Mandela's government, told Rapport he felt betrayed. "My people folded. I can't trust them any more."

But his many detractors said his departure was the best thing to have happened to South African rugby since its triumphant return from international isolation in the 1995 World Cup. Hopes are now high that the divisions which led the Sarfu executive splitting along racial lines last week will disappear from the game.

Mr Luyt was charged with presiding over a game that had been marred by racism and mismanagement. His refusal to allow an independent inquiry into the allegations led to President Mandela becoming the first South African president to defend a political decision in court.

Although the court ruled that the government had no right to investigate Sarfu, the "humiliation" of Mr Mandela was the beginning of the end for Mr Luyt. The row had jeopardised rugby, and lucrative competitions, at home and abroad.

The Sports Minister Steve Tshwete said yesterday that he believed the Irish and Welsh games would now go ahead. But the National Sports Council (NSC) said it would wait until it met a Sarfu delegation today before deciding what to do about plans to ask the Irish and Welsh teams to stay away.

The threat to the multi-million dollar Tri-Nations Test between the Springboks, Australia and New Zealand this summer has now almost certainly been removed.

However, it remains to be seen if the departure of Mr Luyt will be enough to satisfy the Sports Council, which has called for the resignation of the entire executive of Sarfu.

For years, whatever Mr Luyt said in rugby went. When demands for his resignation were considered by Sarfu's executive on Thursday, 6 of the 14 provincial rugby unions still backed him. It may be that the Sports Council wants the heads of more members who are thought to hanker after the old order.

The four black executive members of Sarfu resigned last week in protest at Mr Luyt's refusal to go. Thier supporters yesterday described some of Mr Luyt's supporters as arrogant and reactionary and said that if they were allowed to keep their jobs it would be a betrayal of the four men who had quit. The future of Rian Oberholzer, the Sarfu chief executive, is also in doubt.

While the government has undoubtedly worked behind the scenes to topple Mr Luyt, Mr Mandela was generous with his tributes in public yesterday. He said it was a pity that Mr Luyt's early contribution to the transformation of the game had been overshadowed.